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November 13, 1996: St. Pete police pepper-spray Chairman Omali and others at the Uhuru House in a pre-emptive round-up of Uhuru supporters prior to the announcement of the Grand Jury’s refusal to indict the pigs who killed TyRon Lewis

“They intended to kill us!” The Battle of St. Pete remembered

November 13, 1996 is a date that should be etched into the memory of every freedom-loving African. It has even gained greater significance with the most recent State attacks against the Uhuru Movement in the form of the FBI-initiated predawn raids carried out on July 29, 2022.

November 13 marks the height of the Battle of St. Pete, a rebellion that employed guerilla warfare tactics to protect the African working class community residing in south St. Petersburg, Florida.

This uprising was in response to, first, the murder of 18-year old African TyRon Lewis at the hands of the colonial State, the St. Petersburg police department (SPPD). When they murdered Lewis, they hadn’t anticipated that the African community had the benefit of being ideologically informed by our movement.

Our presence in the African community, at this time, spanned nearly 30 years. We regularly hosted community meetings and demonstrations, conducted political education studies, distributed copies of The Burning Spear newspaper, as well as disseminated leaflets and posters that constantly summed up our conditions and the way forward.

The public assassination of Lewis, coupled with the political and organizational leadership provided by the Uhuru Movement, created the necessary conditions for an uprising.

This was counterinsurgency

The media waged a slander campaign in collaboration with the State, to delegitimize our organization and define us as the “inciters of a riot.” However, we assert that the killing of Lewis was the starting point.

It was also the St. Petersburg city government, the SPPD and neighboring domestic military armed forces that descended on our community on the evening of November 13, 1996, as we attempted to carry out our regular community meeting: this time to discuss the not-guilty verdict of the killer cops.

It was the colonial State that taped off the streets and trapped Movement leaders, women, men and children inside the Uhuru House. They brought every ounce of tear gas they had in the city and shot it towards all of the building’s exits. They attempted to set the trees around the building on fire, creating a no-way-out situation for the people inside.

“They intended to kill us,” Chairman Omali Yeshitela stated at a conference in 1997, summarizing the events of the rebellion.

300 military forces, tear gas and a police helicopter weren’t enough to hold back the African working class youth, the “ghost faces,” who were determined to defend their community and their organization by any means necessary.

This full-scale military attack waged against the Uhuru Movement must be recognized as one of the U.S. government’s counterinsurgency tactics, dating back to the Black Power Movement of the 1960s. The city of St. Pete attempted to crush the only organization fighting for the genuine interests of African people. The organization that brought to our people our own office, meeting spaces, a community gym and other critically important economic development institutions. It aimed to kill Chairman Omali Yeshitela and other key leaders of our Movement. They wanted to effectively eliminate the revolutionary forces in our community and turn away Africans from their own organization.

Our fierce struggle prevented this outcome.

FBI carries out same mission from ‘96

Twenty-six years later, the U.S. government, in the form of the FBI, used flashbang grenades, drones and assault rifles to raid our institutions in St. Petersburg and St. Louis, MO, as well as the personal homes of the Chairman, Deputy Chair Ona Zené and others.

Their bogus explanation rests in a lengthy indictment, citing the overused “Russian agent” excuse that’s been used to frame up Africans in the past.

The Battle of St. Pete provides one example that allows us to see through these absurdities. Russia wasn’t to blame when they killed TyRon Lewis, nor was it responsible for the assault against our Movement in 1996.

The only real explanation for these attacks can be found in the U.S. government’s unceasing efforts to keep African people living under colonial domination, with the threat of violence, loss of limb and livelihood dangling above our heads as a consequence for attempting to recapture our freedom.

The lessons learned

November 13 should serve as an important historical lesson for our struggle today. Organizational leadership is key! We must root our organization in the cities, campuses, jail houses and townships wherever we have organizers.

Ongoing political action and community involvement is absolutely necessary. Political education, agitation and propaganda must be relentless to create conscious, ideologically informed leaders, members and movement sympathizers.

This is what makes the difference. The people are the security!

This complicates the ability for the colonial State to enter into our communities, carrying out violence, without consequence!

Long Live TyRon Lewis!

Hands Off Uhuru! Hands Off Africa!

Organize for Black Power, Block by Block!

Join the fight back against colonial counterinsurgency:

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