St. Petersburg leaders to protesters: Unity is the only way forward

St. Petersburg leaders and the African American community appeared to be working toward unity in the wake of George Floyd’s death. They came together Wednesday morning on the steps of city hall to show solidarity.

But as the day wore on and demonstrators had a chance to talk one-on-one with city leaders and law enforcement, fractures began to form.

“I may never feel the pain of a knee on my neck for 8 min and 46 seconds,” Mayor Rick Kriseman said on the steps of City Hall. “As the mayor, as a human being, I feel the pain my community feels.”

Chief Anthony Holloway said he would come outside police headquarters at 2 p.m., 4 p.m., 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. to meet with protesters who lined the First Avenue North entrance the last five days and discuss their concerns about over-policing and racial injustice. 

Earlier in the day, Holloway and Kriseman did seem to make progress with a couple of protesters as the conversation took on a much more cordial feel. 

“We are going to start hearing some people,” Holloway said. “I can’t reach everybody we can’t make everybody happy but the people that want to come have that dialog, I’m here waiting and I want to hear that conversation."

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However, protester Jerrell Ward said, “We're not talking no more, so we're going to sit here and disrupt it that’s why every state in America is disrupting things."

As the day went on, the chants got louder and the crowd became more agitated. By the end of the night, officers in riot gear formed a line in the street to push back protesters.