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Residents Protest St. Petersburg Road Blocks On MLK Day

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Roberto Roldan
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WUSF Public Media
Jabbar Edmond, organizer of the protest at St. Petersburg City Council, said the Midtown area feels like it is occupied by a military every MLK Day.

An otherwise uncontroversial meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council was flooded with angry residents of St. Petersburg’s Midtown neighborhood on Thursday.

People from the predominantly African American neighborhood were upset about the police road blocks that were set up throughout South St. Petersburg on the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

John Muhammad, a resident and activist, said the police presence looked like a military occupation and kept people from supporting black businesses within the blocked off areas.

“The access to those businesses were limited,” he said. “It was an intimidation thing that would prevent people from going and frequenting those businesses.”

Muhammad posted a video to Facebook on Monday, questioning why police were stopping people from congregating. The video showed him interacting with a police officer who ordered him to move his vehicle from a parking lot near 18th Avenue South.

"You can't move freely in South St. Pete on MLK day,” Muhammad said in the video.

People who normally set up BBQ pits or other food stalls at block parties were also prevented from doing so without a permit.

Stacey McKnight, a resident of South St. Pete, said that many vendors who depend on income from the MLK Day celebration didn’t know they needed a permit this year. Even if they did know, McKnight said many likely couldn’t afford to get one.

“Had the law been in place prior to the day, I think we could have maybe been able to help some people,” she said.  

St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway said the police road blocks were a response to past block parties held in parking lots and in the street. These block parties have led to complaints about noise and safety, he said.

Overall, Holloway said the policing holiday celebrations in the city worked.

“On this day, we didn’t have any shootings, no one got killed, no one got hurt,” he said.

But Holloway admitted that the police could have had better communication.

“Our biggest problem is that we didn’t communicate to the community that we were going to set up this traffic enforcement plan,” Holloway said.

Both residents and police representatives said they plan to have more dialogue about policing before next year’s holiday.

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