PALMETTO -- It was a passionate group that met Thursday night in Palmetto.
About 70 turned up at the Palmetto Youth Center to call for change in their community, which has recently experienced a mass shooting that killed two and wounded 22 others.
It’s a community where, for years, a grocery store owner allowed a vicious criminal element on his property to degrade the neighborhood around it.
Some spoke of the sadness of losing young people to crime. Some railed at police hiring practices, saying more black officers would help them reclaim their community.
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But the overall theme that grew out of the meeting, organized by county Commissioner Michael Gallen, was: We have to work together.
“It’s difficult when you see these young, intelligent black kids killing each other,” said Elston Brown, representing the Apollo Lake Park Neighborhood Association. He said many of the victims are former students from his years as a teacher.
He urged the group to step up, organize block-by-block if necessary, and to “stop fussing at each other.”
Manatee school board member Barbara Harvey called for gathering every pastor and every official from every agency, to try to find a way to halt generators of crime, like poor parenting. Make a plan, execute the plan, she said.
Shavonda Bailey of Palmetto sounded weary when she said, “We’re all tired of meeting, and it’s time for action.”
She noted there has been “a disconnect in our community” between citizens and police: Not enough minority officers are there to help.
But she, too, wanted a concerted group effort, saying, “We’ve got to learn how to stick together; we’ve got to learn how to work together.”
A former sheriff’s deputy who now is a private investigator, Corie Holmes, said a dialogue with black people is missing, and challenged Sheriff Brad Steube to fix it.
The sheriff later told the group that his officers “have been really fighting hard” to cut down crime, and assured the citizens that “we are receptive to what it is you need in your community.”
He urged them to reach out to his deputies, saying, “It isn’t black or white, it’s a green uniform.”
Some speakers noted the absence of Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant, suggesting a new mayor might take more of an interest.
But even the mention of elections drew complaints: Residents argued that the current versions of redistricting plans that govern commission and school board districts would split their community.
And, they complained, redistricting meetings are at 10 a.m., when working people are unable to attend.
Others contended that the difficulties Palmetto is facing are not confined to its boundaries, that horrific crimes are happening in every part of the county.
“I love this community,” said Eliha Wallace. “The things that affect our neighborhood affect every neighborhood in our town. If we can’t come together, it’ll affect the rest of the neighborhoods, too.”
Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at (941) 745-7031.