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Deputies follow as rally protesting black girls’ deaths moves from mall to Pinellas Sheriff’s Office

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

A rally to highlight to point out the injustices faced by black girls, particularly to the girls who drowned in a stolen car in a cemetery pond last month, got the attention of Pinellas deputies and Largo police Thursday.

Rally participants said the deputies threatened to arrest them although no arrests were made. Instead, the rally moved from Largo Mall to the nearby Sheriff’s Office, 10750 Ulmerton Road, where deputies let them stay for a few minutes before herding them off the property.

Before the protesters left the Sheriff’s Office, they chanted accusations that Sheriff’s deputies had watched the three teens — LaNiya Miller, 15; Ashaunti Butler, 15; and Dominique Battle, 16 — drown rather than try to save them.

“They think it’s a joke. They think it’s a game,” the protesters repeated. “While these three girls died in that pond, ya’ll did nothing.”

When they got back to Largo Mall, Ashley Green, a community organizer with the Bay Area Dream Defenders, said to the others: “The sheriff was more aggressive than we thought. Way more. There were three of them out there, then all of a sudden, there were 12.”

Green, who had stood in the street near the curb at the intersection of Ulmerton Road and Seminole Boulevard, said one car driven by an elderly white woman had run over her foot. And another, driven by a white man, had consistently revved his engine as the protesters chanted slogans that included “black girls matter” and “say their name,” followed by the names of the drowned teens.

Green said the dangers of tangling with traffic and the encounters with law enforcement are just part of the effort to bring accountability and justice to all black women, but to the three St. Petersburg teens in particular.

“They deserve that,” Green said of the three. “They deserve to have their lives mean something.”

The rally was part of a national effort, #sayhername, to draw attention to the problems that black girls and women face. But the effort took on a more personal flavor in Pinellas because of the events of March 31 when the teens, who were being followed by deputies, drowned in a pond at the Royal Palm Cemetery North.

Pinellas Sheriff Bob Gualtieri has defended his deputies, saying they did try to save the girls but were unable to reach the vehicle. But many black activists say Gualtieri is covering for his deputies, who did not try to save them. The activists have also criticized Gualtieri for pointing out the girls’ criminal records.

They have accused Gualtieri of character assassination and blaming the three for their own deaths.

The Pinellas rally was organized by the Bay Area Dream Defenders and the Advancement Project. The Dream Defenders are a national group that believes in nonviolent resistance, according to its website, dreamdefenders.org. The organization’s goals include “an immediate end to the police state and murder of Black people, other people of color, and other oppressed peoples in the United States.”

The Advancement Project, advancementproject.org, is “a multiracial civil rights organization. Founded by a team of veteran civil rights lawyers in 1999, Advancement Project was created to develop and inspire community-based solutions based on the same high-quality legal analysis and public education campaigns that produced the landmark civil rights victories of earlier eras.”

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