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Authors Present Initial Findings On Structural Racism In St. Petersburg

A woman in a bright green outfit stands at the St. Pete County council podium for guest speakers.
St. Petersburg City Council Meeting Screenshot
Dr. Ruthmae Sears, a math professor at the University of South Florida, is the lead investigator of a study the city commissioned to look at structural racism locally.

A $50,000 study commissioned by the city of St. Petersburg has University of South Florida Faculty and community members exploring the history of structural racism in the city, and what actions need to be taken to address it.

A new study says St. Petersburg's history is rife with policy and bias that has disproportionately harmed its black residents.

What started as a quality of life study for African Americans in St. Petersburg a few years ago turned into a study on structural racism.

The preliminary findings were presented at a city council meeting last week.

“This study seeks to describe historical trends in the community, and consider how history has influenced the current initiatives of inequities that exist in housing, economics, wellbeing, educational outcomes, and the criminal legal system," said University of South Florida math professor Ruthmae Sears, the study's lead investigator.

The report, commissioned for $50,000 and started in March, described inequality and segregation issues dating back to the city's first known black settler in 1868.

It details six decades of inaction in minimum housing standards that impact black homes today, redlining of Black residents forced to live in certain parts of St. Petersburg, and Pinellas County being the last in the state to desegregate schools.

Black residents earn less than their white counterparts at similar education levels, are more likely to die in childbirth, and deal with higher rates of arrest and incarceration, the study found.

City council members discussed forming a committee in response to the preliminary findings.

But council members Deborah Figgs-Sanders and Lisa Wheeler-Bowman said they’d rather wait for the study to finish before establishing a committee.

“We're up here. We are council. We represent our districts in this city," said Wheeler-Bowman. "Her and I: We’re two black women that live this every single day. … Until you walk in my shoes, until you leave from here, drive to my district, where every other day it seems like someone’s getting murdered - where you don’t know if you’re going to walk out your door and come home, your children are going to come home – until you live in it, you’ll never understand it.”

When the final report is given to the city in September, council members are expected to discuss whether to form a new committee to address the issues.

Tampa is considering similar work.

I took my first photography class when I was 11. My stepmom begged a local group to let me into the adults-only class, and armed with a 35 mm disposable camera, I started my journey toward multimedia journalism.