It appears that St. Petersburg dodged a bullet a fortnight ago when the civil disturbance in Midtown didn’t morph into a full-fledged riot. That, of course, is small consolation to those merchants who did have their shops broken into and inventory hauled off. And then there were some wrong-time, wrong-place folks who genuinely feared for their lives.
But the big picture is clear; it could have been much worse. It could have been a reprise of 1996’s exercise in wanton destruction and serial torching.
This time the city was better prepared, and more community leaders spoke out against violence as an acceptable reaction to anything — including the run-up to the TyRon Lewis civil-suit verdict. This time the tired Uhuru rhetoric of revolt didn’t get much traction. This time the city had more to lose.
Since ’96, St. Petersburg has poured more than $100 million into the economically disadvantaged area on the city’s south side. The moniker “Midtown” was coined by Mayor Rick Baker to underscore a new beginning for the 5.5-square-mile area. Baker even jettisoned a police chief to appease the storm troopers of political correctness.
But here’s the message that still needs to resonate with Midtown’s 20,000 residents. There is a limit to government spending. Arguably, it has been reached. And it was mostly spent on key public infrastructure and amenities: new schools, a library, and recreation and healthcare centers. The city even spent $4 million to clear out 16 acres by buying rundown homes and businesses.
Here’s what has to happen now: The private sector needs to become the catalytic player. There is already activity afoot, but nothing like the commitment required for a viable foundation for tax-generating commerce and community-stabilizing jobs.
The private sector, suffice it to say, will not be induced to invest in Midtown if the marketing slogan, in effect, is: “Bring your business to Midtown and build your future here. It’s been nearly 8 years between lootings.”
There’s no room any more for bogus priorities such as the lionization of thugs like Lewis. Or for scapegoating the police. Certainly not when the overriding issues are black-on-black crime and community-corroding drug-dealing.
The onus is on Midtown’s residents to mount a zero- tolerance crusade against its self-destructive, loser elements. It’s time to serve notice that not only are the fear-mongering, time-warped Uhurus history — but so also are the tactics of extortion and the practice of generational victimization.
Frankly, it’s time the community seriously partnered with the police, especially when Midtown — representing less than 10 per cent of the city’s population — is responsible for more than 50 per cent of the homicides.
That’s not the sort of statistical beacon that impresses the private sector.