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Rick Kriseman: We find ourselves here for too many reasons

The St. Petersburg Mayor has something to say about inevitable civil unrest.

It was the summer of 1967. I was five years old and living in Detroit. Not in the suburbs of Detroit. In Detroit. 8 mile road.

Like so many families that summer, my sister, my parents and I sat in front of the television to watch the nightly news.Today, 53 years later, I still remember what I saw on the news in July of that summer.

The City of Detroit was burning.

I remember asking my parents why the buildings were on fire and being told that there were riots in the downtown area of the city.

As I grew older, I learned why there were riots in Detroit in 1967, and again in 1968. 1968 was in response to the assassination of Dr. King. But 1967 was about racism, police brutality, segregation, poverty, and housing. And the riots didn’t just happen in Detroit. They happened across America, in city after city.

St. Pete endured its own challenges during that time.

As I grew up, remembering that long, hot summer of 1967, I had thought, naively, that such wide scale unrest was a thing of the past; that despite the persistent racism, injustice, and countless inequities that could be found in any city in America, we would never again see such collective anger across our country.

But, more than 50 years later, here we are. And not just because George Floyd was killed.

We find ourselves here for too many reasons.

Too many African American men have been senselessly murdered.

Too many African Americans find themselves in jail for lesser reasons and longer sentences than white people.

Too many policies, economic and otherwise, benefit the wealthy, the white, and the few.

Too many politicians are preventing returning citizens, many of whom are black, from voting, despite the will of the people of Florida.

And for the first time in our nation’s history, we have not a president we can turn to for leadership.

The work of building just and fair societies, of ensuring opportunity for all, of leading people through hurricanes, global pandemics, and civil unrest has fallen to governors, mayors, council members, and community leaders. Fortunately, we’re up to the challenge. I believe we’ve proven that here in St. Pete.

We have so much work left to do. There is no doubt about that. I heard it yesterday when talking to protesters.

But I am convinced that what we learned from 1996, what we’ve built in this city, what we’ve implemented since 2014, how we’ve reshaped this police department, has helped us — so far — to avoid what so many other cities are facing this week.

Our vision statement says “we will be a city of opportunity where the sun shines on all who come to live, work, and play. The very foundation of that vision is our urban affairs agenda, enriching the lives of residents through investment in people, places, and programs. We’ve done that. We’ve made the investments, and we’re already seeing it pay dividends.

We know that focusing on our youth is time and money well spent.

We adopted President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper’s initiative, turned it into ‘My Brother’s and Sister’s Keeper’, made it our own, and we are now changing lives through our Cohort of Champions, our summer workforce academies, our youth development grants, our ‘Not My Son’ campaign that keeps guns out of the hands of our kids.

It’s working. All of it.

As poverty and crime have fallen, hopes and dreams have risen.

And while I believe the trajectory of this city, of every corner of our city, remains upward — I know the dream still feels out of reach for too many. I know the treatment of African Americans in this country causes pain for too many in our community. That pain leads to anger.

I get it.

I may never feel the pain of a knee on my neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, but as the mayor, as a human being, I feel the pain my community feels.

And it feels awful.

We have, in St. Pete, the very best police officers in the country. I believe that. This is a department that doesn’t police the community. They build relationships within the community. This is a department that has gone from high speed chases to high-fiving kids on the basketball court.

They are the best.

For most of the last four nights, we’ve also had some of the very best protesters in the country. Peaceful protesters, with an important message. A plea for justice.

But, we’ve also had those who have failed to convey a clear message, who have chosen to not lift their voice, but lift objects.

They are doing it the wrong way. And they leave us no choice but to take action in order to maintain peace in our beautiful city.

There is a better way.

And St. Pete has an opportunity here to lead the way, and continue to show the world how it’s done.


This content was originally published on Kriseman’s official Facebook page and reposted with permission from his administration.

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