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Conference on World Affairs panel discusses protests and policing

Bill DeYoung

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St. Petersburg Chief of Police Anthony Holloway participated in a virtual panel on Thursday, “Protest and the Police,” part of this week’s St. Petersburg Conference on World Affairs.

The livestreamed discussion also included Clem Harris, Ph.D., director of Africana Studies and an Assistant Professor in the Department of History at Utica College; student activist Kai Tomalin, 19; and Kenneth E. Mayers, Ph.D., a former Marine, longtime non-violent protestor and a member of the Veterans For Peace organization.

With moderation from French journalist Eduardo Cue, each panelist delivered a lengthy opening statement – presenting four mostly-different takes on the subjects of police, protests, white privilege and the global Black Lives Matter movement. This was followed by a series of questions from viewers.

While acknowledging that the St. Petersburg Police Department has not done a first-class job in marketing itself – informing the public about its newest and change-inspired methodologies – Holloway talked about the SPPD’s “strategic policing” policy: “Instead of fishing with a fishing net, let’s start fishing with a fishing pole,” he explained. “Let’s be strategic on ‘How do we eliminate those people that are causing harm in our community, without causing harm to those people that are doing the right thing in the community?’”

Holloway also talked about accountability – “making yourself transparent, so people can come in and see what you’re doing. A lot of agencies that are accredited are very transparent. Make yourself open to the community, so they can see what’s going on inside that building. And people can see how to become a part of that police department. And not ‘that department stands alone.’”

He discussed trust-building, responsiveness and responsibility, specifying the SPPD’s “park, walk and talk” program, in which officers make themselves known in a community. “Because nine times out of 10, when people see a police officer, automatically the negative part takes place.” In other words, the citizen fears the worst.

“Let’s change that scenario around. Let’s have the officers come into that community and be a part of that community, so you can address a solution before it becomes an issue … so they’re not just seeing a negative part, they’re seeing a positive part.”

Each of the panelists addressed the murders of George Floyd, and other unarmed Black citizens, at the hands of police in 2020. And the takeaways from the 180-degree difference in Washington police response to Black Lives Matter protestors last summer and the white mob that stormed the Capitol in January.

“Civil rights historians, as well as urban studies scholars, have found strong similarities between the current Black Lives Matter movement and the Civil Rights and Black Power movements of the 1960s,” Harris said.

“Like both of those movements, our nation today stands at a critical intersection regarding the unresolved histories of slavery, racism and discrimination. Yet unlike the 1960s, the movement to end systemic racism in America today is overwhelmingly multi-ethnic and intergenerational – protesters are male and female, and the movement is documented by pictures and videos from Smartphones that can be immediately uploaded to social media platforms.”

A video recording of the one-hour conversation will be available early next week. Watch this space.

The Conference on World Affairs continues through Friday. Registration is free here.

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