A small group of activists gathered at the Pinellas County Courthouse Friday afternoon to protest the deaths of three black teenage girls who drowned last month in a stolen car.
The mixed-race group shouted slogans that included “Jail the killer cops!” and demanded reparations for the girls and other African-American teens that, they said, died at the hands of murderous police. They also demanded that the black community have control of the police. They threatened to shut St. Petersburg down should they not be listened to.
During most of the demonstration, which lasted about an hour, the group was heckled by a white man identified only as “Matt” who lives in the “Pinellas Park area.” Matt brought his own megaphone to broadcast his views that the kids were in a stolen car and “got what they deserved.”
He periodically turned on a siren and taunted the protestors with “they’re coming!” and telling them they’d better run. He also told them that Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri “doesn’t care” about their protests nor do other police. When the protesters left, he suggested that police should run the tag numbers of their cars because one or more was likely stolen.
Matt said he had come to air his views because he had lived in Pinellas all his life and was “tired of it.” If someone robs a bank, he said, that person takes the risk that he will be shot. It’s the same with stolen cars. If the girls had not been in a stolen car, he said, none of it would have happened.
The dispute between the protestors, led by the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, was sparked by the early morning deaths of three teenage girls March 31. The three – Laniya Miller, 15, Ashaunti Butler, 15, and Dominique Battle, 16 – were in a stolen car. Deputies from the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office were following them when they turned into the Royal Palm North Cemetery, 2600 Gandy Blvd., and drove into a pond.
Gualtieri said his deputies tried to save the girls but were unable to do so because of the muck.
The girls’ families, the Uhurus and others say a videotape shows the deputies standing at the edge of the pond as the car sank. The deputies, they say, made no effort to save the girls.
Gualtieri has branded the charges as “nonsense” and says the scene on the video was taken out of context.
A video clip of the protest, and Matt’s ‘counterprotest,’ is below: