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City Tense But Calm As Leaders Look For Ways to Help

October 27, 1996

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) _ Tensions that led to a night of race riots in this Gulf Coast city go beyond the shooting of a young black man by a white police officer, a minister said Saturday.

``A shooting did not start the rioting,″ said Preston Leonard, pastor of Christ Gospel Church. ``It is years of what has been perceived in the black community as mistreatment. It’s a people thing, not a racial thing, and it is happening all over the country.″

Eleven people were injured during the rioting Thursday night and 20 people were arrested. Twenty-eight buildings were burned and preliminary estimates of damage were set at $5 million.

Authorities reported some scattered rock and bottle throwing Friday night, along with a few small fires.

Hundreds of National Guardsmen and extra law officers were brought into the city. Police Chief Darrel Stephens wouldn’t say when they might leave.

Streets were quiet Saturday as Leonard walked through violence-scarred neighborhoods. The city remained under a state of emergency to restrict gun and gasoline sales.

Leonard said some blacks feel they have been left behind economically with no one to speak up for them.

``Most of the kids out there Thursday night were not there because they personally had some interest,″ Leonard said. ``They were there because somebody said, `Let’s go, my friend was treated wrong.‴

Tyron Lewis, 18, was killed by a white officer during a traffic stop.

Police said Officer James Knight fired after Lewis’ car lurched toward him. Some witnesses said the officer was not in danger.

Knight and his partner, Sandra Minor, were placed on indefinite leave with pay while the shooting is investigated.

Organizers went ahead with a block party Saturday in one predominantly black neighborhood. The festival had been planned long before the riots.

``We want (residents) to know that in spite of the fact that it seems no one hears their call or cry, we’re here,″ said Annie Carew, whose multicultural art organization sponsored the event.