Darryl Rouson - Activism and Law Practice

Activism and Law Practice

Rouson's activism in the community and his law practice often involve his passions for civil rights and against drug addiction.

In January 2000, Rouson was appointed to the St. Petersburg Charter Review Commission. The Council decided at the same session to award a $50,000 grant to the St. Petersburg Area Black Chamber of Commerce. The chamber had experienced financial difficulties since it was established in 1999. Rouson also became the president of the Chamber later in the month. His predecessor had co-mingled personal funds with that of the Chamber's in order to maintain solvency, and Rouson sought to establish the financial integrity of the Chamber. He saw the Chamber as the NAACP's economic arm and as a partner with the St. Petersburg Area Chamber of Commerce. He set the chamber's goals at bringing more minority-owned businesses to St. Petersburg and attracting the convention of a national company.

In July 2000, as head of the Chamber, Rouson protested the treatment of African-American teenagers at a local mall. In the late 1990s, several Tampa Bay Area malls, including Tyrone Square mall, developed dress codes to deter what they saw as gang activity. One of the concerns they had was with caps worn turned to one side. In July 2000, Tyrone mall's policy generated controversy after the son of a minister at Bethel Community Baptist Church was ejected. The boy's father felt the mall's actions were discriminatory, whereas the mall said it was simply providing for the safety of its patrons. Rouson went to the mall in an effort to "test the policy." He too was asked to leave.

In November 2000, he won an election as president of the St. Petersburg Chapter of the NAACP. He received criticism during the campaign as a member of the Uhuru Movement. He denied the assertion, dismissing it as a scare tactic. He did say that the NAACP should work more closely with the Uhuru's and other civic organizations on such matters as economic development. Omali Yeshitela, the group's leader, also denied that Rouson was a member. He did welcome what he perceived as needed change in the NAACP. After the election, Rouson said his goals were to continue to counter the effects of racism, eliminate substance abuse, improve economic development and double youth membership.

That same month, he represented a neighborhood association that was suing a motel on a nuisance complaint. The Fossil Park Neighborhood Association accused the owners of the motel of allowing it to be used as a crack house and providing a place for prostitutes to bring their clients. Complaints to the motel owners and to the police had been unavailing. Rouson said he saw the suit as an opportunity to continue his fight against drug abuse in the area. The suit was settled two years later, with both sides bound by a gag order under the terms of the settlement. Plaintiffs were scheduled to meet with an architect with plans to replace the motel with a three-story, 30-room Best Western.

By early 2003, the NAACP under Rouson's leadership achieved a number of milestones in meeting its goals. Pinellas County created a program to help small businesses owned by minorities. The first African American was appointed to the St. Petersburg Times board of directors. The Pinellas County Sheriff's Office appointed its first black captain. The school board hired more African-American subcontractors for the construction of Gibbs High School. His achievements were tempered by some adversity. He declared bankruptcy to erase debts incurred before his return to St. Petersburg. He received a reprimand from the state Bar in early 2001. During a criminal trial, he had surreptitiously gone through a report on the opposing counsel's table in the court room. He readily admitted he had made a mistake and apologized. Prosecutors said that he could have had access to the material merely by asking.

In October 2003, Rouson condemned the message sent by the Monopoly parody Ghettopoly and joined the president of the Hillsborough NAACP in demanding that the Urban Outfitters in Ybor City remove the game from its shelves. Although the game's creator claimed it was intended to be satirical, Rouson declared, "There's nothing humorous or light about death and destruction that drugs and drug dealing cause in our neighborhoods that one should profit in parody."

In January 2004, Rouson said he would not seek re-election as president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, citing the time the unpaid position took from his law practice and family. He also challenged the community to build on the progress made in civil rights in the private sector and in government. By November, however, no one had stepped forward to replace him and he agreed to stay. In July 2005, he announced that he would replaced by his assistant, vice-president Trenia Byrd-Cox. He had earlier advocated for the secession of Midtown from St. Petersburg in an effort to emphasize shortcomings in the status of African Americans in Pinellas County. However, he had backed away from the idea after recognizing its divisiveness.

In April 2005, while president of the St. Petersburg NAACP, Rouson stood trial on a charge of misdemeanor trespassing. In June 2004, he had entered into a conflict with the manager of a St. Petersburg tobacconist's shop, the Purple Haze. He claims to have strongly objected to the selling of what he condemned as drug paraphernalia, glass smoking pipes. Although ostensibly sold for use with tobacco, Rouson claimed it was common knowledge they were commonly used to smoke such illicit drugs as marijuana and cocaine, and decried the "legal lie and deception" that allows them to be sold. In court, the manager of the shop said anyone who talks about illegal drugs is asked to leave, and that Rouson had refused to do so. Rouson claimed that he tried to leave, but his way was blocked by two pit bulls. At trial, Rouson claimed he had gone to the store as an act of protest against the sell of what he called "death utensils." One of his witnesses was a Catholic priest who testified about his training in nonviolent civil disobedience. He was found guilty, but the judge withheld adjudication.

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