For the first time, amid a year of firsts, the St. Petersburg branch NAACP held their annual meeting via Zoom on Saturday, December 14 at 10 a.m.
Among 2020 budget records and NAACP member growth reports, St. Petersburg branch leaders, including current President Harry Harvey and president-elect Esther Eugene, stressed the educational gap between Black students and their non-Black peers; housing needs following the COVID-19 crisis and fair treatment of Black and brown people by the St. Petersburg Police Department.
“Our members are the lifeblood of our organization,” Harvey said to the 36 participants in Saturday’s meeting. “There’s nothing our people cannot do in the face of upholding public justice.”
The Shooting of Dominique Harris, Extensive Police Force Body Cameras
First Vice President Trenia Cox presented the St. Petersburg NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee’s annual report with the shadows of the recent fatal shooting of 20-year-old Dominique Harris by St. Petersburg police officers on Wednesday, December 2.
“Is the St. Petersburg Police Department following the best practices?” Cox said before mentioning the eight key policies generated in 2014 by President Obama’s Taskforce on Police Reform.
Harris was a “person of interest” in an open 2019 homicide case, according to Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri. Harris was armed and attempted to flee police before he shot an officer and was then hit and killed with 38 bullets.
“The concern with the Harris case is the extensive use of force,” Cox said.
Led by Cox, leaders went on to discuss accountability in the local police department, an issue that was supported on Thursday, December 10 with the release of a new body camera program that is set to outfit 575 SPPD officers with recording devices.
St. Petersburg NAACP members said they will continue to meet with St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway and monitor the city’s use of power.
The Reality for Black Students
Delphine Brown, head of the Education Committee, had a significant amount to address considering the shut down and virtual revamp of schools during the month of March following the national pandemic.
“Currently 67% of Black students are attending face-to-face,” Brown confirmed in her report.
According to Brown, there are concerns about whether students who do not attend in-person classes can access proper devices; parents not being able to assist in digital learning; a lack of internet service and food deficiency.
“Every child needs to receive a free, high-quality, equitably funded, public pre-K and K-12 education,” Brown said in her report. And currently “74 percent of children in our community are not reading proficiently.”
While there is no quick fix for these issues, the NAACP plans to continue working with the Bridging the Gap Plan and to participate in the curriculum review each year.
Leaders agreed that there should be a focus on getting students in school and learning, while practicing social distancing.
Seniors Hold on for Homes
In 2018, the St. Petersburg Housing Authority moved residents, including 20 senior citizens, out of the historic village at Jordan Park.
The goal is to build a 60-unit high-rise on land where the senior village was, a building that has not been completed due to funding issues and financing plan delays.
According to president-elect Eugene, of the 20 displaced seniors, there are 10 who would like to return, and those who choose to return will get the first right to accept or refuse a unit. When that will happen, exactly, remains unclear.
In the meantime, St. Petersburg Housing Authority chief executive officer, Michael Lundy, has agreed to participate in monthly Executive Committee meetings to provide updates on the project, these will be either in person or through written reports.
Leaders ended the meeting with a call for increased membership and advocacy.
“If you have 1000 members here in the community, there will not be an elected official who can disregard us,” Eugene said as the meeting concluded.