Tuesday, May 22, 2018
Politics

While officers stay on sidelines, RNC protests decry police tactics

TAMPA — Wednesday was another day of peaceful protests, with two noticeable differences: more organization among protesters and less visibility from police.

Just a dozen bicycle officers could be seen during an afternoon Planned Parenthood Action Fund rally at Julian B. Lane River­front Park, and only a smattering of officers around the crowd.

Tampa police Chief Jane Castor attended the event and explained the decrease in police presence compared with every other protest during the Republican National Convention.

"We don't want to show an overwhelming number of officers," she said. "We want to have a measured approach."

The situation was similar at the evening's AFL-CIO march along the approved parade route.

Even baiting officers didn't draw out a big response. At a late-night unplanned protest in Lykes Gaslight Square Park, officers stood silent as protesters held boxes of doughnuts and dangled bagels on a rope.

On the protest side, the day's events served as an example of improved organization.

At the Planned Parenthood rally, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, a Democrat representing Tampa, spoke. A woman dressed as a giant birth control pill pack took the stage and led a chant:

"Ho, Ho, Hey, Hey, Planned Parenthood is here to stay!"

A message to Republicans was emblazoned on some attendees' pink shirts: "WOMEN ARE WATCHING."

Even a sudden downpour failed to break up the event. Organizers passed out pink ponchos as the rally continued about 20 minutes later.

An evening march — hosted by the West Central Florida Federation of Labor Central Labor Council and attended by about 100 union workers including postal employees, steelworkers and teachers — started promptly and had a clear message.

"Welcome to Romney's America," a banner read. Satirical skits along the parade route highlighted what the country supposedly would look like if Mitt Romney were elected president.

"We need to retain and expand workers' rights and benefits," said Sarasota resident Beverly St. Hilaire. "I feel Romney is protecting the 1 percent; they're destroying the middle class."

But not everything went as expected Wednesday.

About 9:30 p.m., protesters briefly blocked downtown traffic when they left Gaslight Park and headed back to their camp.

Some protesters headed farther south, down Ashley Drive toward the Tampa Bay Times Forum. As they clustered there, Chief Castor appeared and mingled with them and journalists.

"We're allowing people to exercise their rights," she said.

Earlier, protesters at the Romney­ville camp marched to decry what they said was a heavy police presence the day before.

"I sag my pants, I rock my hoodie," they chanted in unison. "TPD keep your hands off me!"

The Tampa Police Department did just that, but bicycle officers kept a close eye on the march from afar and kept pace.

Protesters then marched to Argosy University on N Howard Avenue to protest "scam schools." The university is a for-profit school in which the Goldman Sachs investment banking firm holds a stake. The group then decided to head toward the AFL-CIO march, but first needed directions. Who did the protesters ask?

The police.

Times staff writers Kameel Stanley, Justin George, Jessica Vander Velde, Kim Wilmath, Keeley Sheehan, Jamal Thalji, Bill Varian, Joe Smith, Robbyn Mitchell, Mike Brassfield and Bill Varian contributed to this report.

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