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St. Petersburg, Florida riots of 1996

Riots occurred in St. Petersburg, Florida in 1996 following the shooting and death of an unarmed African American male teenage motorist during a police traffic stop.

St. Petersburg, Florida riots of 1996
DateFirst Wave:
October 25, 1996 – October 26, 1996 Second Wave:
November 13, 1996 – November 14, 1996
Caused byFirst Wave: Shooting of Tyron Lewis
Second Wave: Jim Knight not indicted[1]
MethodsArson, looting, rioting, gunfire

Initial incidentEdit

Two white police officers, Jim Knight and Sandra Minor, saw the gold sports car speeding on 18th Avenue S, on October 24, 1996. Knight, who was driving, flipped on the police car's emergency lights and stopped the car near the intersection at 16th Street.

In court documents, Knight says he told the driver, 18-year-old Tyron Lewis, to turn off the car's engine and show his hands. Instead, Knight says, Lewis bumped him at least six times with the car. Witnesses would later say Lewis' car rolled at the speed of a baby's crawl. Lewis' passenger, Eugene Young, who was not shot, recalled Lewis saying: "Please don't shoot, please don't shoot, I ain't even got nothing!" Knight told his partner to smash the car's windows with her baton. As she did, Knight says Lewis attempted to turn the car. Knight was knocked onto the gold hood. He fired his Glock semiautomatic pistol three times, hitting Lewis twice in the arm and once in the chest. He died at the scene.[2]


During the investigation immediately following this event, a large crowd had gathered and became agitated due to the police department not sharing information and a number of witnesses describing events. The situation quickly got out of hand and the crowd began throwing rocks, bottles, and other items at police officers.[3]

Police officers received reinforcements from other local agencies and off-duty St. Petersburg Police officers. As officers and Sheriff deputies shot tear gas into the crowd and dispersed the initial crowd at 16th Street and 18th Avenue South, a number of individuals continued rioting through the area of St. Petersburg known as Midtown. 705th Military Police Company, Florida National Guard was activated and arrived at the riots to assist local police officers.[citation needed]

At least 20 people were arrested and 28 arson fires were confirmed as groups of youths ran back and forth throughout the night, throwing rocks, bricks and bottles at officers in riot gear, businesses and passing cars.[3] At least 11 people were injured, including a police officer who was shot and a newspaper photographer who was beaten, as hundreds of people swarmed through the streets after the shooting on October 24.[4] Stores were looted and thick smoke clouded the neighborhood just south of downtown.[citation needed]

Different media versionsEdit

Media outlets published different versions of the initial incident. The media outlets in and around the St. Petersburg area included the information that the car Lewis was driving was suspected of being stolen. Media outlets outside the area only mentioned that Lewis was pulled over for speeding. The car was actually reported stolen but, after further investigation, was found to be sold to Lewis for an undetermined amount of crack cocaine, then reported stolen by the seller.[5]


After the rioting, Officer James Knight and his partner Sandra Minor were put on paid leave while investigation into their actions took place.[6] Within a few weeks, the two officers were cleared of all charges by a grand jury, igniting further rioting on November 13 and 14.[7][8][9]

Gymnasium namingEdit

The People's Democratic Uhuru Movement has a gym named "Uhuru Black Gym of Our Own." City leaders moved the gym to an abandoned building on 9th St. S., renovated the building and renamed it to "All People's TyRon Lewis Community Gym." This move sparked controversy with many police officers.[10]

In popular cultureEdit

In 2009, Chris Fuller's independent movie Loren Cass was released in the United States depicting the riots.[11][12]


  1. ^ Flank, Lenny (August 21, 2014). "The 1996 St Petersburg FL Riots". Daily Kos. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  2. ^ Sharockman, Aaron; Swider, Paul; Penn, Ivan (October 21, 2006). "Neighborhoodtimes: '96 riots: After national shame, did city change?". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  3. ^ a b "St. Petersburg quiet as leaders assess riots". CNN. October 26, 1996. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  4. ^ Davison, Phil (October 25, 1996). "Death sparks race riots in Florida". The Independent. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  5. ^ Jo Melone, Mary (May 12, 2004). "Columns: He was no poster child until these 55 seconds". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  6. ^ Jet. 90. Johnson Publishing Company. November 11, 1996. p. 12. ISSN 0021-5996.
  7. ^ Raghunathan, Abhi (October 22, 2006). "Officers primed to quell uprising: Ten years after the riots, police are better equipped and trained". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  8. ^ Decker, Twila (November 14, 1996). "Violence Returns To St. Pete Streets". Orlando Sentinel. Retrieved 2016-11-16.
  9. ^ "Decision in St. Petersburg Riot Case Sparks New Clashes". Los Angeles Times. November 14, 1996. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-11-16 – via Associated Press.
  10. ^ Cora, Casey (October 21, 2006). "Neighborhoodtimes: How dicey can a gym name be?". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  11. ^ Koehler, Robert (June 13, 2007). "Review: 'Loren Cass'". Variety. Retrieved 2016-11-15.
  12. ^ Warner, David (July 24, 2009). "St. Petersburg-made movie Loren Cass gets NY Times rave review". Creative Loafing. Retrieved 2016-11-15.

External linksEdit

  • Officers primed to quell uprising, Ten years after the riots, police are better equipped and trained. By ABHI RAGHUNATHAN Published October 22, 2006, St. Petersburg Times