If county commissioners pull public funding from a local black radio station because of its associations with an African socialist group, were commissioners within their legal rights to do so or did the action create a First Amendment issue by suppressing free speech?
That’s at the heart of a controversy in St. Petersburg, Fla., where Pinellas County commissioners unanimously voted to revoke $36,000 in grant funding to WBPU 96.3, a nonprofit station known as “Black Power 96.” The Tampa Bay Times reported that commissioners were upset over the station’s association with the African socialist Uhuru Movement. The FBI raided the group’s St. Petersburg headquarters in 2022.
“The point that the Pinellas County Commission made when they voted to revoke these resources is that Black people are not allowed to disagree with them,” said Uhuru spokesperson Akile Anai in the Times article. “Because if we do, they will attempt to make it impossible for us to succeed.”
The station said it’s considering legal action against the commission. In a statement, the station said that among other things, it planned to use the grant funds to expand its emergency capabilities and educational programming.
In an earlier story, the Times reported that the funding came from the federal government’s COVID-19 relief program for small nonprofits. The money went to the African People’s Education and Defense Fund, an Uhuru-affiliated nonprofit that the Pinellas Community Foundation determined met the requirements for funding consideration.
The station operates from the Uhuru House in St. Petersburg, the Times reported. The FBI raid involved an alleged connection to a Russian indicted on charges related to spreading pro-Russian propaganda and interfering with elections.
Chris Latvala, the commissioner who proposed revoking the funding, said “there are numerous reasons” why no funding should have been approved for a group linked to the Uhuru Movement, including allegations of anti-Semitism and a mock trial of St. Petersburg police officers. At the commission meeting, he said there were better uses for the money than funding a radio station, which is largely staffed by volunteers.
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