Letter to the Editor of Creative Loafing, re: “Activists storm St. Pete council chambers, leave package that spurs evacuation”
written by Kefira Baron of the St. Petersburg, Florida branch of Uhuru Solidarity Movement
As an Uhuru Solidarity Movement activist who participated in the action last Thursday morning, I was shocked and deeply offended by this article. The reactionary reporting of the demonstration belittled the political significance of what transpired. The lack of journalistic integrity made it loud and clear that the media echoes the response that came from the City Council. They refused to listen to a spokesperson of International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, Gazi Kodzo speaking on behalf of the black community of South St. Petersburg. As soon as Kodzo took the mic, the City Council jumped out of their seats and stormed out of the Council chamber. Gazi was barely able to share three sentences of a short speech before he was contained, dragged and pushed out of the room by a security guard.
Remaining members of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement and Uhuru Solidarity Movement stood up and demanded to City Council “If we don’t choose it, tear it down!” Referring to City Council’s proposal to offer a $10,000 budget for a new mural in City Hall. The proposal cites the new mural should reflect “celebrating the advances of civil rights and inclusivity in the city today.” The City Council’s disregard of involving Omali Yeshitela and others who, in 1966, tore down the original mural contradicts the “inclusivity” they aim to parade. In fact, what “advances of civil rights” are they referring to, when the more than a quarter of the African community of South St. Petersburg lives at or below 100% of the Federal Poverty Level and face the highest rates of unemployment. Young African children in South St. Pete are twice as likely to be suspended and written up than white children for the same infraction. Pinellas County schools deliberately fail 90-95% of black children. Clearly the advancement of civil rights City Council is only an illusion they will paint in the mural they hand-pick.
As we chanted, we tore an image of the old racist mural. Charlie Gerdes scoffed “it’s more effective when you do it in a way that’s courteous and respectful.” Gerdes, an advocate for funding a new $20 million dollar headquarter for the St. Pete PD, has the City been “courteous and respectful” in criminalizing, imprisoning and murdering the African community of South St. Pete? Has the City been “courteous and respectful” to the citizens of South St. Petersburg when it comes to the blatant gentrification?
The original mural hung for 26 years, symbolic of the white nationalism that has reverberated through St. Petersburg for decades. It was painted at a time when public lynching of African people was an American pastime. If Chairman Omali Yeshitela didn’t tear the mural, it would probably still hang there today. Instead Yeshitela and others were sentenced to five years in prison for the courageous act.
The act of civil disobedience carried out was to draw attention to the blatant disregard for the history of this mural’s removal and further highlight the City’s continued disrespect and hostility toward the black community’s role in the City. This article not only failed at reporting on an important political action in the city, but was written in such a style that upholds the slander that portrays “the uhurus” as some fringe group; the only people who recognize us as “the uhurus” are those who don’t want support us. We, activists in this action, were members of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM), and the Uhuru Solidarity Movement (USM). As an organizer of USM I can proudly defend the action we carried out.
I continue to represent solidarity under the leadership of the African community of St. Pete and all over the world, for their right for self-determination and control over their own communities, which is why we are hosting an event at the Uhuru House, 1245 18th Ave S, on Wednesday the 17th at 7pm. The event is titled “All Diamond are Blood Diamonds” to discuss the truth of the exploitative industry, and the right of African people to reclaim their diamonds and other stolen resources, which is the birthright of all Africans.
The space for the mural in City Hall is the birthright of St. Pete’s black community therefore it is their right to decide what goes in its place. If the City Council proceeds to select a mural without the consultation of Yeshitela, and the African community, the mural will not last as long as the last one.