St. Pete civil rights activists join nationwide chorus of Ferguson shooting protests

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More than 30 protesters took to Williams Park in downtown St. Pete Tuesday evening despite consistent rain and a covering of muddy puddles to protest the grand jury decision not to indict Ferguson police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.

The group carried battery-powered candles in honor of Brown. They shuffled around and mingled in groups. Some were visibly upset because justice, in their opinion, would not be served for Brown who was determined to be unarmed at the time of his shooting. Others were angry. Some were subdued, but there to show solidarity with protesters in Ferguson.

Along the road and scattered through the park were several police officers making sure things didn’t get out of hand. Officers on foot came and went with the rain – standing under shelter and ducking into their cruisers when the drops started to fall. The protesters huddled under umbrellas and a small canopy while others just got wet.

“We want justice, we want it now,” the group chanted in unison before hearing an empowering invocation from one protester.

“We’re here even in the midst of this rain – our prayer is raining down justice, rain down freedom, rain down love, rain down equality, rain down peace for all people…,” the pastor spoke into a bullhorn.

The night before a grand jury handed down the ruling that the white police officer who shot and killed Brown over the summer would not be indicted. The proceedings were closed, but a trove of documents released by the prosecution indicated prosecutors couldn’t determine if a crime had been committed. According to the documents, testimony suggested Brown, though unarmed, charged the officer menacingly and blood in the police vehicle and on the weapon suggested close proximity.

But that information hasn’t been enough to quell protests nationwide. In Ferguson, protests turned violent during riots following the ruling. Protests followed in major cities like New York and in California. Students at a law school in Baltimore dropped in unison to the ground symbolizing Brown’s death. Others drew chalk lines around the bodies for four minutes – each minute representing the four hours Brown’s body lay on the ground in Ferguson.

“You can’t just kill people because you have a badge. You’ve got to respect the law just like you want the people to respect the law,” said St. Pete protester Eric Atwater.

Another woman who said she’s from Ferguson broke into tears talking about the shooting and the grand jury decision.

“I am very embarrassed for what they have done there. Show yourself for the bastard, lowlife scum you are,” shouted Dawn Hardy from beneath an umbrella. Hardy claimed her 14-year-old neice was shot and killed during a protest in Ferguson Tuesday, but no reports have emerged about such an incident. An adult woman was killed by a self-inflicted accidental gun shot in a car after the driver rear-ended another car. He told authorities she was waving the gun around saying she was ready for Ferguson.

Members of the St. Pete-based Uhuru group also known as the African People’s Socialist Party rallied about 60 protesters earlier in the day on Central Avenue near the St. Petersburg Police Department. In Tampa, about 30 protesters gathered in front of the George E. Edgecomb Courthouse to protest the grand jury decision.

Brown supporters hope the question of indictment is not dead and look to a higher court to take up the issue. President Barack Obama has called on protesters to remain peaceful and civil.

Supporters in St. Pete say they’re not going away.

“You can’t just kill people because you have a badge,” St. Pete protester Atwater said.

Janelle Irwin has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in the Tampa Bay area since 2003. She also hosts a weekly political talk show on WMNF Community radio. Janelle formerly served as the sole staff reporter for WMNF News and previously covered news for Patch.com and various local neighborhood newsletters. Her work has been featured in the New York Daily News, Free Speech Radio News and Florida Public Radio and she's been interviewed by radio stations across the nation for her coverage of the 2012 Republican National Convention. Janelle is a diehard news junkie who isn't afraid to take on big names in local politics including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, the dirty business of trash and recycling in St. Pete and the ongoing Pier debacle. Her work as a reporter and radio host has earned her two WMNF awards including News Volunteer of the Year and Public Affairs Volunteer of the Year. Janelle is also the devoted mother to three brilliant and beautiful daughters who are a constant source of inspiration and occasional blogging fodder. To contact, email janelle@floridapolitics.com.