The first order of business: briefing and drilling by Mr. Maurice Mickens, a well-known community leader and the deacon of the Mt. Carmel Baptist Church in North Greenwood on Palm Bluff. The march proceeded in an orderly fashion north on Fort Harrison, then east across Myrtle to target and confront key drug hot spots in the North Greenwood area.
A police escort with flashing lights led the way, followed by the leading edge of mostly young marchers carrying a long banner proclaiming: “Up with Hope, down with Dope!” Next came the imposing bulk of a black hearse (donated for the march by Moss Feaster Funeral Home) symbolizing that drug dealing equals death-dealing.
A smaller group of protesters, brandishing placards with the names of casualties of the drug trade, marched behind the hearse, followed by the rank and file of protesters chanting such slogans as, “Drug dealer, drug dealer, you can’t hide, we charge you with genocide; “If you keep on selling, we’re gonna keep on yelling,” and “If you keep selling crack, we will be back.”
As the protesters in full voice turned onto Martin Luther King Street in North Greenwood, an incident occurred which no one could have foreseen: two alleged drug dealers who the police had previously sought, flashed by the marchers at high speed, nearly careening into them and the police escort.
The chase was on, as several police cars peeled off from the escort and chased the runaway car with pulsating lights and sirens screaming. The protesters were quickly herded into a safe building to ensure no untoward incident while the escort was withdrawn. The police returned an hour later and briefed the marchers: the alleged fugitives had been caught and arrested and drugs were seized in their car.
The coincidence that these alleged dealers were suddenly flushed into view at the exact moment the protesters appeared in the neighborhood was not lost on the officers present. After briefing the marchers an officer stated, “This justifies why we are out here.” At that point the formation re-assembled and the march continued.
The march was distinguished by the presence of Clearwater’s city councilman, John Doran, who not only joined the protest against drugs and crime, but actively participated in the second phase of the march: cleaning up debris and trash along the way. Mr. Doran’s presence emphasized a key message of the event: it takes citizen involvement and commitment if the members of this community are to have safe and clean neighborhoods.
The architects of the marches, Maurice Mickens, Jonathan Wade and Sherry Van Hootegem of the North Greenwood Community Coalition emphasized that the protests are effective. The formula? Put pressure on trouble spots identified by the police by confronting them and making it too uncomfortable for them to operate in the area. As a result, violent crime in the neighborhood has reduced and two infamous locations have been shut down.
Mr. Maurice Mickens of the North Greenwood Community Coalition left the assembled protesters with the following message: “One march isn’t enough. Consistency is the key. If you do it only one time or twice and think that the situation is going to end, it won’t. You need to make a commitment.”