MAXWELL:  Police-hater has no place on panel

6/3/1998 – Printed in the EDITORIAL section of the St Petersburg Times Newspaper


As hard as I try, I cannot take most St. Petersburg city officials seriously, including Mayor David Fischer, Police Chief Goliath Davis and now top city administrator Darrel Stephens. Each time I think that they are becoming appropriately sophisticated for a major league city, they do something that would embarrass Yeehaw Junction.

Their latest gaffe involves the appointment of Chimurenga Waller to the Citizen Review Committee, which examines decisions of the St. Petersburg Police Department in internal affairs matters. Although the panel lacks decisionmaking authority, it makes recommendations to police officials.

Here is the rub: Chimurenga Waller, called Dwight Waller in an earlier life, is president of the St. Petersburg chapter of the National People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement, a self-styled “revolutionary” outfit that is the sworn enemy of the police.

Having deluded themselves into believing that St. Petersburg cops are tools of a regime determined to exterminate or, at the least, oppress black citizens, especially young males, Uhuru members think nothing of fighting police in the streets.

Following riots in 1996 sparked by the police shooting of TyRon Lewis, the Uhuru Movement, which police say instigated the violence, conducted a kangaroo court and called for two officers to be killed in the state electric chair. Since then, the group has kept up a steady drumbeat of anti-police rhetoric and other threatening talk.

For example, in a recent St. Petersburg Times article, Uhuru leader Omali Yeshitela, born Joe Waller Jr., warned that the 1996 disturbances were a harbinger of greater trouble: “We’re going to see worse than that.”

To his credit, Jack Soule, president of the local Police Benevolent Association, has condemned Fischer for appointing Waller. “We strongly oppose this appointment,” Soule wrote in a letter to the mayor, “and believe you have dishonored law-abiding citizens, the hard-working police officers and good reputation of the St. Petersburg Police Department.”

Soule asked Fischer either to reconsider Waller’s selection or appoint a member of the police union’s board of directors “for fairness and balance.”

He is right that the appointment of Waller, however well-intentioned, is irresponsible. But he is wrong to think that appointing a member of the police union’s board of directors would balance Waller, whose new name, Chimurenga, supposedly means “revolution” in Shona, an African language.

Everything that Waller, along with his comrades, has said indicates that he hates the police. Although police presence, in fact, is the only force standing between relative peace and anarchy in many parts of the black community, Waller wants all cops removed from all black areas.

Is this the perspective of a rational person? What made the mayor and his advisers appoint Waller escapes me. If they are trying to co-opt the Uhurus for political reasons, then say so. But let us not pretend that the appointment is anything more than politics. As for Soule, he should know that the appointment of a member of the police union board of directors would deepen enmity.

An Uhuru member and a police board member at loggerheads will not serve the public good. The bottom line is that the review committee does not need Waller or a police board member.

Although some blacks will scream racism, Fischer should muster the courage to remove Waller. After all, his views hardly represent those of the overwhelming majority of law-abiding African-Americans. Most blacks I know welcome cops in their neighborhoods. The brave even give tips to the police _ as all good citizens should.

Waller and his organization suggest that cops cause the major problems in the black community. Wrong. Black criminals and residents who remain silent are the main cause of trouble in the black community.

If Fischer wants to be respectful of black citizens in this controversy, he should replace Waller with an African-American whose views are broadly representative and rational. Police internal affairs matters are too important to be held hostage by a band of radicals living in a time warp. Yes, police and community relations need to be improved, but having people around who want to execute cops is insane.

In his letter to Fischer, Soule makes perfect sense: to keep Waller on the panel is to “clearly demonstrate that as mayor of St. Petersburg, you have a total disregard and no respect for the hard-working police officers who put their lives on the line daily to ensure St. Petersburg is a safe place for citizens to enjoy.”