Sunday, April 22, 2018
News Roundup

Clearwater merchants upset over anti-Scientology protests

CLEARWATER — About three dozen downtown business owners are upset with a group of anti-Scientology protesters and want the City Council to do something about them.

But city leaders Tuesday said there's little they can do.

"Suspending the First Amendment is something we shouldn't spend a whole lot of time on," Councilman Paul Gibson said.

The loosely organized group Anonymous has held several recent demonstrations against the Church of Scientology. Many Cleveland Street businesses say the masked protesters and the constant chanting have begun to take a toll.

They say the monthly demonstrations are turning away customers and ruining the overall ambiance of a downtown that city leaders have spent years trying to revitalize. And, they say, the protesters are scaring away people.

A petition signed by 34 merchants and two residents asked the council for "assistance in this matter."

The petition said the local Anonymous group, mostly college students, have a right to peacefully protest, "but they are in no way peaceful."

"Their actions have prevented customers from coming into our stores," said the petition, which was submitted Friday to City Hall. "These people are making it difficult for us to attract customers downtown."

On Tuesday, the City Council spent less than two minutes discussing the issue. The members agreed to send a letter to the businesses, saying they would not address the issue.

"I'm glad the City Council recognized our rights as Americans to gather to speak our opinions and protest," said Joshua Nussbaum, 19, a student in Hillsborough County and local Anonymous organizer. "They did what was right . . . and we will continue to do what we think is right."

The majority of the business owners who signed the petition are Scientologists, which led some in Anonymous to question whether the church had a hand in the petition. But Church of Scientology spokeswoman Pat Harney and a number of business owners who spoke with the Times on Monday denied it.

The merchants said they were concerned the protesters would harm the downtown that Clearwater is trying to rebuild.

"You can hear them screaming, hear cars honking and people who come here for a massage just want to relax," said Gen Cournoyer, owner of Botanica Day Spa, 123 N Fort Harrison Ave.

"You're entitled to free speech," said Cournoyer, a 26-year-old church member, "but we're trying to make a living and it can affect the people who work here. Plus it's an eyesore. They look punkish."

But the dissatisfaction isn't limited to businesses owned by Scientologists.

Debbie King manages Trickels Jewelers and is not a Scientologist. She didn't sign the petition but wishes the protesters would go away. "People don't want to come downtown when that's going on," King said.

She added that the masks Anonymous members don to shield their identities also scare children.

Angela Gioffre, who owns an Italian clothing store and helped organize the petition, said she will talk to other merchants to see if they can meet with city leaders.

"We have to find a solution," she said.

Others, though, don't see the protests as a big deal.

"When they're out there, they do whatever they do, but they haven't scared our customers," said Manola Louvon, 30, whose father owns Chiang Mai, a Thai restaurant at 415 Cleveland St.

Local leaders have invested millions into revitalizing the downtown's core, particularly its main east-west thoroughfare — Cleveland Street — where most of the affected businesses are located.

And while council members say they want to lure more businesses downtown and help keep the ones there happy, they say the demonstrators haven't done anything illegal.

Anonymous organizer Nussbaum said "our problem is with the management and leadership of the church," and questioned how the marches could harm local shops.

"We've never said anything to the employees or customers — we've always been polite," he said adding that members are frequent patrons of many of the businesses.

He also pointed out that no Anonymous member has been arrested or cited during the demonstrations. But he said he would be willing to meet with business owners.

The group, which marched in downtown for the fourth time last Saturday, has a core of about 80 members, he said. The next march will be June 14 when they'll dress like pirates, calling the demonstration "Sea Arrrgh," a poke at Sea Org, a religious order in the church.

Comments
Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Ex-NFL kicker Jay Feely apologizes for ‘joke’ gun photo

Former NFL kicker Jay Feely, who was born in Odessa and starred at Tampa Jesuit, has apologized for a photo he intended as a joke, showing him holding a gun as he poses with his daughter and her prom date."Wishing my beautiful daughter and her date a...
Updated: 17 minutes ago
Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

Deputies: Florida man on LSD knocks out teen girl at RaceTrac while her parent pumps gas

ST. PETERSBURG — A man punched a 13-year-old girl inside a RaceTrac convenience store on Saturday, knocking her unconscious as her parent pumped gas outside, Pinellas deputies reported.Kolbe Wayne Smith, 27 and of St. Petersburg, now faces charges of...
Updated: 23 minutes ago
It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

It’s Earth Day. Here are 11 stories about how climate change affects Florida.

Happy Earth Day, Florida!In the spirit of the holiday that recognizes our planet’s clean air, water and land, here are 11 stories the Tampa Bay Times has published about how climate change affects the Sunshine State.1. The Florida keys have to elevat...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

Perspective: The Heartland to Headwaters Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition finds frustration and fear seeking a safe path for wildlife across Interstate 4

The original Florida Wildlife Corridor Expedition in 2012 was inspired by how the Florida black bear roamed — and the space it needed to do so successfully. In 2010, expedition team member Joe Guthrie conducted research through the University of Kent...
Updated: 2 hours ago
4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

4 dead in Nashville Waffle House shooting; suspect sought

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — A man wearing nothing but a coat stormed a Waffle House restaurant in Tennessee before dawn Sunday and shot four people to death, according to police, who credited a customer with saving lives by wresting a weapon away from t...
Updated: 5 hours ago
District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

District softball schedules for Tampa Bay

Class 9A-8 (higher seed hosts)Tuesday: No. 3 Alonso at No. 2 Palm Harbor University, 4; No. 4 Sarasota Riverview at No. 1 Newsome, 7Thursday: Final, 4 or 7 (depending on who hosts)Class 8A-4 at Strawberry Crest Tuesday: No. 1 Wharton vs. No. 4 Wiregr...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Teen killed in crash remembered as

Teen killed in crash remembered as "always smiling and laughing"

WEEKI WACHEE — Seth Leathers was on his way to play basketball at his church when he was killed Wednesday in a car crash on U.S. 19 in Spring Hill, according to family friend Laurie Pike.Leathers, 16, was the passenger in a car driven by his friend G...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Rays thoughts are with ex-teammate Danny Farquhar

Members of the Rays organization sent their thoughts and prayers to former teammate Danny Farquhar, who was hospitalized Saturday night in Chicago in stable but critical condition after suffering a brain hemorrhage caused by a ruptured aneurysm.Farqu...
Updated: 8 hours ago
Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

Baseball: Bulls edge Knights to even series

After a two-hour weather delay Saturday evening at USF, the remote local threat of lightning finally dissipated.The postseason intensity never did.For the second consecutive night, the UCF-USF baseball series delivered, this time with the Bulls (25-1...
Published: 04/22/18
Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Editorial: Pruitt sets new low for ethics at EPA

Not too many people took then-candidate Donald Trump seriously when he famously campaigned to "drain the swamp" as president. But that shouldn’t give this administration a free pass to excuse the behavior of Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Env...
Published: 04/22/18