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St. Petersburg rebuilding after '96 violence

A year after a white police officer fatally shot a black teen, igniting two nights of racial violence, residents in this city's black community find their anger giving way to hope.

As police patrols enforced peace and firefighters doused the blazes from the riot last year, government officials rushed down from Washington with pledges of dollars and plans to ease simmering tensions.Task forces sounded out community complaints. The police department was overhauled. The mayor worked up a long-term plan to improve the blighted conditions in the predominantly black area where businesses were torched and rocks and bottles hurled after the death of TyRon Lewis.

And slowly, the community is rebuilding from the destruction.

Lewis, 18, was shot twice on Oct. 24, 1996, after he was stopped by police in a stolen car and refused orders to get out of the vehicle.

Officer Joe Knight said the car bumped him four times and lurched forward before he fired through the windshield. He was cleared of any wrongdoing and reassigned to another area of the city.

Today, Lewis' body lies in an unmarked, unnoticed grave at Royal Palm North Cemetery. Yet, his legacy is significant. His death was a catalyst for change.

There seems to be a "collective consciousness among folks. They found ways to communicate displeasure to the city, state and federal governments," said City Councilman Frank Peterman, who represents the district. "That's a big step. The tension and anger are giving way. We're really on our way up for the first time in St. Petersburg's history."