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Tampa mayor, police chief after protests: Stay home

Mayor Jane Castor and Chief Brian Dugan address the city after a violent night.
Police officers, some with riot gear and canisters of pepper spray block Busch blvd to prevent protesters from advancing down the road on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa.
Police officers, some with riot gear and canisters of pepper spray block Busch blvd to prevent protesters from advancing down the road on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]
Published May 31, 2020
Updated May 31, 2020

Tampa Police Department Chief Brian Dugan and Mayor Jane Castor took to Facebook Live on Sunday morning to tell peaceful protestors to stay home today.

“It’s a different tone right now,” Dugan said. “As the day went on, you could see the tensions start to rise. You can see the peaceful protesters go home and then start to see people who didn’t have the best intentions.”

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday in Tampa to protest the death of George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died after he was pinned to the ground by a police officer. Protests broke out across the country this weekend, fueling an ongoing conversation about police brutality against minority communities.

Peaceful demonstrations devolved into violence as people looted and burned down businesses. A Champs Sports store near University Mall was burned to the ground. The adjacent Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant was also damaged. A Mobil gas station on East Busch Boulevard caught fire.

Police SWAT officers guard firefighters as they respond to the Champs Sports store after protesters looted and set the building on fire on Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Tampa.
Police SWAT officers guard firefighters as they respond to the Champs Sports store after protesters looted and set the building on fire on Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Dugan questioned if some in the crowd even “saw the video” of what happened to George Floyd in Minneapolis, or knew who he was. Castor said some of the young people who were arrested last night were wearing ankle bracelets.

Castor described the unrest that grew overnight as “shameful” and “heartbreaking for our community.” “It did not reflect our community and the values we share,” Castor said. “What I saw last night happens in other cities, it does not happen in Tampa.”

Castor said there was a change in tone among the groups around 6 p.m. and the destruction that followed.

“Make no mistake, there are systematic issues that need to be addressed. We share your anger over the death of George Floyd and the hopes and expectations of tomorrow,” she said. “But this behavior solves nothing. Solutions take time.”

About 40 businesses were burglarized and looted. Five were set on fire. Dugan said there may be others that have yet to be reported. One officer had a minor burn to her arm. 27 police cars were damaged, from punctured tires to shattered windows. 41 people were arrested. Dugan said he expects more arrests Sunday night if the unrest continues.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office arrested seven people overnight related to protests. Those arrested were charged with burglary, grand theft, battery on a law enforcement officer, carrying a concealed firearm and theft, according to deputies. Deputies also responded to several burglaries and one shooting overnight. Two deputies suffered minor injuries last night and 15 patrol vehicles were damaged.

Fire trucks and police still lingered in the parking lot of a Tampa strip mall before 8 a.m. Sunday, after a store and restaurant burned during escalating demonstrations that spanned into the early morning hours.

Nooruddin Bhalwani, 59, owns Malani Jewelers. The fire in Fowler Plaza South stopped just north of the store he has owned since 2006, but looters got inside.

“Very sad to see these things,” said Bhalwani, who lives in Odessa. He was watching the security videos from inside his store when someone called him.

“I saw someone breaking in,” he said.

They went all inside, broke the glass. They took the computers and the telephones but could not get to his safe. He said he came to the scene around 8:30 p.m. and left by about 2 a.m. By morning, he was watching fire crews shower water on the plaza, sighing in dismay.

Thanh Son, 50, and his family took over the Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant four years ago after running a restaurant in Kansas City, Mo., for 15 years. They were in the restaurant Saturday night when the protests broke out.

“You saw the crowd coming ... so scary,” said Savy Lam, 44, his wife.

All these years owning a restaurant, they’ve never had something happen like this. Police came in and cleared out looters after they broke into an AT&T store in the plaza.

“It looked all okay. Four police officers on the road and one over here,” Son said as he pointed inside the plaza. He went home to Tampa Palms at 9:30 p.m.

Bhalwani, the jewelry store owner, called him later to say he could see from his security cameras that the restaurant was on fire. Son came back around 1 a.m., but he couldn’t get close, so he went home and came back at 7 a.m. He says he slept maybe an hour.

“I don’t know what the police cars were doing,” he said, sounding amazed that a fire was started given the lockdown he saw when he went home the first time. “We don’t know when we can rebuild. We have no idea at all.”

Fire crews work Sunday morning on the Fowler Plaza South where the Champs Sports store and Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant are.
Fire crews work Sunday morning on the Fowler Plaza South where the Champs Sports store and Saigon Bay Vietnamese Restaurant are. [ AMY HOLLYFIELD | Tampa Bay Times ]

More than 40 people were arrested in Tampa during the unrest, according to the Tampa Police Department. Charges ranged from burglary t

o rioting to carrying concealed firearms.

Law enforcement used tear gas, shot rubber bullets and stood in full riot gear in front of crowds that gathered around Tampa. People hurled projectiles and fireworks at officers.

The scene Sunday morning was quiet. Empty shoe boxes and shattered glass littered the streets and parking lots. The K&G Fashion Superstore at the mall was boarded up already. Glass doors on vacant anchor spots at the mall were shattered.

The K&G Fashion Superstore at the University Mall is boarded up Sunday morning.
The K&G Fashion Superstore at the University Mall is boarded up Sunday morning. [ ANASTASIA DAWSON | Tampa Bay Times ]

An ATM was rolled over at the SunTrust Bank just west of the shopping plaza. A handful of people lingered there Sunday morning, assessing the damage.

Cars slowed down on Fowler Avenue as they passed the burned Champs store. An officer with a loudspeaker directed traffic to keep moving.

A man chose to pick up trash in the aftermath of demonstrations where businesses were looted and burned to the ground around University Mall in Tampa.
A man chose to pick up trash in the aftermath of demonstrations where businesses were looted and burned to the ground around University Mall in Tampa. [ Anastasia Dawson ]
The burned-out Mobil gas station at 30th and Busch Boulevard is boarded up Sunday morning.
The burned-out Mobil gas station at 30th and Busch Boulevard is boarded up Sunday morning. [ JOEY KNIGHT | Tampa Bay Times ]

“Black Lives Matter” was painted in black on the side of the Sears Auto Center. Other messages that targeted police were spray painted on walls and beams around the mall property.

One man wandered the parking lot with a bucket, picking up trash. He declined to give a Tampa Bay Times reporter his name, but said he came on his own to help clean up.

“I think there’s a way to lead the conversation but this is not the way," he said. "I think a lot of the anger comes down to injustice in the system. I don’t think it’s just about black versus white. I think it’s deeper than that.”