If 32 murders this year in St. Pete wasn’t bad enough, the city also reported 49 hate crime incidents, most of any Florida city and the majority of Pinellas’ 63 reported cases, according to a study released today by Attorney General Charlie Crist.
Not such a great day in St. Petersburg, is it Mr. Mayor?
In the city’s defense, Police Chief Chuck Harmon cut short his holiday vacation to hold a news conference about the numbers. The figures were an aberration, Harmon said, largely the result of one evening of civil unrest on May 12, in which a group of about 125 people, mostly black, threw bricks and bottles at drivers, mostly white. One man’s face was beaten so badly that he needed reconstructive surgery.
Harmon noted that the disturbance accounted for 29 of the city’s 49 reported hate crime victims. Without those, the number would have been 20, similar to the previous year. In 2005, police said, the number of reported hate crime victims in St. Petersburg has fallen to 13.
I really don’t think Harmon’s explanation jives (uh-oh, I better not say too much about the Chief, or he’ll be on the phone with Earnest Williams again) because the hate crimes that he considers an aberration are still a result of the long-standing issues the de-facto segregated African-American community has with the St. Pete Police Department. And if I were black, I would be rioting, errr, taking part in civil unrest every chance I get. Take a look at the message board at www.leoaffairs.com. Click on message boards and then scroll down to the St. Pete Police Department Board. Go ahead and read through the invective that permeates that board. Sure, the comments are anonymous, so it could be just a handful of SPPD officers making a lot of the same devastatingly racist comments. But from all of the varied perspectives, if not varied writing styles, it appears that there are A LOT of SPPD officers writing some of the worst shit you’ll see on a message board. Scary enough that if I were black, I’d be hate crimin’ all day too.
The worst part of this issues is that it’s one of those stories that is written about in every major Florida newspaper. For example. AP: Reported hate crimes up 21 percent in 2004; Herald: Hate crimes on rise in Florida; Sun-Sentinel: Increase in agency reports spurs rise in South Florida hate crimes; Post: Palm Beach County hate crimes rise in 2004; Tribune: Hate Crimes Rose In 2004, With St. Pete Topping List; Sentinel: Hate-crime reports on the rise; Democrat: Hate crimes up in state; Sun: Reports of hate crimes up 20%.
The crime rate in this city is its Achilles Heel and I don’t think the current administration understands that. When headlines like those above scream out across the state, that seriously damages a city. When murder after murder is committed, that seriously damages a city. And it’s not just the high-profile crimes that hurt. In fact, they are so isolated, that their impact is really felt in only a generic way. It’s the low-level street crime that eats away at a city’s core. There is so much vagarancy and “broken-windows” level crime that is ignored by the SPPD. And it’s not the rank-and-file’s fault, they want to work these problems. Just read what THEY say on their message board. They’re just as frustrated as we are. But for some reason, the word from higher-up ties their hands.