There may be some frightening subtext to recent police chases in St. Petersburg that ended with injuries to innocent bystanders.
"When these police chases -- whether it's the perpetrator or the police -- causes a death, I believe that's going to be a flashpoint," NAACP president Manuel Sykes told FOX 13 News, referring to civil disturbances that erupted in 1996 after a police shooting. "They don't understand that with every episode, the fuse gets shorter in the community to put up with that."
Monday, a motorist at a gas station at MLK and 22nd Avenue S was injured when a suspect vehicle plowed into two vehicles. St. Petersburg police had several reasons for pursuing the suspect vehicle: It was stolen, and when officers attempted to box it in while it was parked at another convenience store, the driver allegedly rammed a cruiser and tried to strike an officer.
Police say one of the male suspects in the car also forced two female occupants who tried to get out of the vehicle back into the vehicle, creating a concern the females were being held against their will.
The resulting chase was authorized by a commanding officer, even as multiple vehicles sped down major roadways.
Monday's chase and crash came less than a month after another that injured several citizens.
"It's getting real scary because it's all the time," said independent trucker Arthur Brown.
Brown claimed he has been the victim of an unlawful traffic stop and a witness to aggressive police driving.
"You can just see them riding down the street -- 80 mph, whoo! -- and you gotta get out of their way because they turn their lights on and they tailgate you, at 60 mph come right behind you, hit their brakes, swerve over. It's just getting reckless out here," Brown said.
Betty Canady, 69, told FOX 13 News she was in a car stopped at the intersection where Monday's pursuit ended.
"They had undercover police cars just strung down [MLK] Street, flying down [MLK] Street like it was a speedway," she recalled, claiming the suspect and one police cruiser came within several feet of her car. "It's frightening to think that you could have lost your life behind some stupidity."
Sykes said similar experiences are becoming too common.
"These police chases are just a visible manifestation of a very disrespectful policy to that community and it's going to have consequences down the line," Sykes predicted.
A spokesman for the St. Petersburg Police Department denied there has been a decline in relations between the African American community and the agency. The department has hosted a couple of community forums in recent months to let citizens voice their concerns.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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