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The Saturday Morning Massacre

 The Saturday Morning Massacre… so it was dubbed by the Homeless community in St. Petersburg, Florida. On gay pride day in St. Petersburg, the so called “Liberal” Mayor of St. Petersburg initiated mass arrests of homeless folks to clear the homeless of off the streets. Most of the charges were trumped up by the city and the Mayor’s Police force and most were minor or made up. Thus, began a new round of prosecution and persecution of Homeless folks in St. Petersburg. You see, in Florida, homelessness is criminalized and in many cases certain life sustaining needs are criminalized by cities in Florida and throughout the US. But, the actions of the St. Petersburg Police go even further.

After the “Saturday Morning Massacre”, Mayor Kriseman with the unconditional support of the Chief of Police and the SPPD, began a regular series of harassment efforts and arrests of those experiencing homelessness. Every day for the last several weeks, homeless folks have been told that they would be trespassed from public parks, such as Williams Park, that they would be trespassed from even the whole downtown area. This is unprecedented and unconstitutional! It violates International law regarding freedom of movement. All this is in light of upcoming elections for Mayor. And, the 2 corporate sponsored candidates, Mayor Rick Kriseman and Former Mayor Rick Baker, are campaigning on how tough they can get or are in regards to “cleaning up” the downtown area and getting tough on crime.

But, it gets even worse. There is now a lawsuit and criminal charges potentially in the works for a recent incident of gross Police misconduct, neglect and abuse. Recently, in a sweep of homeless folks, 8 homeless folks were arrested in put in a Police van. While in the Police van, the van caught on fire. It is not clear whether an officer was smoking or something else started the fire. The homeless folks started to bang on the door and on the inside walls of the van as smoke was causing breathing problems and causing the people to choke.

The Police van driver initially ignored their pleas for help for more than 20 -25 minutes according three of the homeless folks that were in the van. They came to us, at the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign Florida, to report this to us. We have secured a private litigation attorney and the Southern Legal Counsel from Gainesville to take on the case. In addition, to the initial reckless endangerment by ignoring the pleas of the homeless, the officers involved, did not even let the homeless folks out of the van until they had already sprayed the van with fire extinguishers.

When the homeless folks finally got out, they had to be treated for smoke inhalation. They were then told that if they didn’t say anything all charges would be dropped. There has an attempted cover up of this. But, we are going public with this all over. It appears that 6 of the 8 have been rearrested and all have been harassed in continued retaliation for this coming forward. This case is ongoing and may impact the election. The only candidates that have been responsive and supportive is Uhuru and Green party supported candidate for Mayor Jesse Nevel, as well as Akile Cannion, District 6 candidate for City council.

The story continues… As of this writing it has been reported that on Sept 1st there will be a series of crackdowns being initiated by the city. These include forcing several soup kitchens to either move or ceasing serving meals, social services agencies moving, forcing homeless folks to no longer lie down in the grass in public parks, and attempting to end meal shares in the parks by such groups as Food Not Bombs. But, we advocates and activists are going on the offensive. We have lawyers involved, planned sleep outs and other direct actions, a Copwatch being activated,  and a festival of Resistance called Disturbing the Peace Fest.

So, for our part the story and struggle continues also. Homelessness is not a crime. Poverty is not a Crime.

Rev. Dr. Bruce Wright is a Baptist Pastor and Director of Refuge Ministries and ordained Deacon with the Apostolic Catholic Church. He is on the Executive Committee of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. Email bruce@stpeteprogressives.org.

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