SAINT PETERSBURG, Fla. — The string of shootings that have haunted south St. Petersburg for weeks has forced leaders and concerned neighbors to have uncomfortable conversations about stopping the concentrated violence shaking the area.
Wednesday night, councilmember Deborah Figgs-Sanders hosted an online forum to address the root causes of violence and to start brainstorming solutions. The forum comes just a few days after a meeting with Police Chief Anthony Holloway.
"We started with having vigils, we started with a march, we started with sign-waving, and we’re going to continue that,” Figgs-Sanders said. However, she said it’s time for the community to do more, starting with uniting to work on solutions.
One of the big issues facing the area: crime and loitering along the 16th Street corridor where large weekend gatherings have resulted in violence.
"It's not zoned. I mean we've got, from what I'm to understand now, three operating illegal clubs or meeting spots,” said Michael Jalazzo, of People Empowering & Restoring Communities.
One of the proposed solutions is training, assistance and resources to help those businesses become legitimate and to become partners in the community instead of problems.
Those at Wednesday’s meeting also want to focus on programming. There were suggestions for reformed youth and re-entry programs to work closer with those at-risk. Attendees also want an overall better investment in young people.
"I think we probably need to start developing more programs that focus on our preschool and elementary school kids,” LaShante Keys said. Emphasizing that this could help them stay on track and keep them away from trouble as they get older.
Councilmember Lisa Wheeler-Bowman, who is also behind the "Enough is Enough" campaign, said the challenge now is reaching people in the community who might be afraid to speak up about the problems they see.
“People are afraid to come out of their house,” she said. “You know, they don’t want to seem like they’re supporting an organization that might turn them into the police…so we’re going to have to do some bold things, and we’re gonna have to be bold about what we’re standing up for.”
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