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Protests end largely peacefully on Thursday night

Protests continued for a sixth day across Tampa Bay on Thursday.

UPDATE 1 A.M.: Protests in Tampa and St. Petersburg ended and there were no events reported.

UPDATE 9 P.M.: After marching through downtown streets with few police officers in sight, protesters in downtown Tampa mostly disbanded Thursday night.

Some returned to Curtis Hixon Park where the organized demonstration first began. They gathered in a circle and danced to music. Others headed to their cars to get out of the steady rain.

In St. Petersburg, a growing group of protesters marched west into the sunset, stopping in intersections to kneel and chant. They eventually turned back after dark, and heading back through downtown. Crowds outside of the St. Petersburg Police headquarters had been thin most of Thursday, which was a change of pace compared to previous nights.

Meanwhile around 125 protesters who gathered in Plant City have concluded a peaceful demonstration in the evening. No arrests were made, said the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.

• • •

UPDATE 7:30 P.M.: The rain did not slow down protesters in St. Petersburg as another group emerged and headed toward Beach Drive.

Diners at Beach Drive eateries looked on as the crowd of nearly 300 moved slowly down the street chanting, “Hands up! Don’t shoot!" while blocking traffic in some intersections. People on bicycles and skateboards lead the crowd forward. Some donned plastic ponchos and umbrellas.

A man carrying a Biden for President flag in the crowd asked, “Do we have a destination?”

A woman in a pink spandex jumpsuit replied. "No man we’re just walking... These are our streets.”

Angela Lynch, 19, had to come home from her dream of studying to be a dancer in New York City. She is staying with her parents in St. Pete and came out to the protest with two friends.

“I figured I should be a part of history," she said. “People we love are facing some brutal actions not for anything they did or anything they deserved. I don’t know how you make people humane, but it makes me really emotional.”

She added: “It’s a little overwhelming. I’m glad I came though. In 20 years when this is in my kids’ history books I want be a part of it.”

There were no police in sight at this hour in St. Petersburg. Though a few passing motorists honked and revved their engines at the group as they slowed traffic.

Tension had dissipated from the Tampa protest as hundreds of people left Curtis Hixon Park and headed toward Hyde Park. The group stayed on the move, chanting as they went. Police presence died down after officers pepper sprayed protesters headed north on Ashley Drive toward Interstate 275 earlier in the day.

“This is my third time that I am here delivering food and water," said Joshua Kizer, 30, from Tampa, as he unloaded cases of bottled water from his car. "I think that my brothers need us and we’re here together."

The first time he delivered supplies to protesters was Sunday. Then he came again on Tuesday.

“The police shot us and then I saw that many people need and ask for water,” he said. "So I spent my own money to do that. The money doesn’t matter. It’s a good cause.”

• • •

UPDATE 6 P.M.: Police in Tampa drove protesters back toward Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park, where the group originally began their march, after a few tense exchanges.

Officers used pepper spray and detained an event organizer. Police said they wanted to contain the protest to one location. The tense exchanges began after protesters began to march north on Ashley Drive toward the Armature Works food hall.

Back at Curtis Hixon, more than 300 protestors stood together for an eight-minute-long moment of silence — the same amount of time a Minneapolis police officer held his knee on the neck of George Floyd before killing him over a week ago. Every protestor laid or sat down, staring straight forward. Nobody smiled.

The only person who spoke was an organizer of the protest, who read Floyd’s last words through a megaphone. “I didn’t do anything serious man ... Everything hurts ... please ... I can’t breathe.” Chants erupted as protestors rose back to their feet.

Just 15 minutes before, one of the protest’s organizers was detained by police near the on-ramp to Interstate 275. The protest remained peaceful after the group returned to the downtown park.

In St. Petersburg, a second group of protesters began marching down First Avenue N. Police barricaded the road at 16th Street as more than 100 people chanted as they walked through the rain. Another group of about 40 protestors remained back at City Hall. There protesters gave out popcorn, water bottles and Domino’s Pizza. Kids played in the grass.

• • •

UPDATE 5 P.M.: Protesters in St. Petersburg avoided congregating outside of police headquarters Thursday, and instead shifted to sitting and kneeling in the streets of nearby neighborhoods.

A group of more than 100 kneeled peacefully in the Old Northeast brick streets, blocking traffic and drawing attention from neighbors inside their homes. The group moved to the busy intersection of 22nd Avenue N and Fourth Street N, where they laid down on the asphalt. Some of the protestors in the group were children.

The group moved down Fourth Street toward downtown, drawing claps and shouts from restaurant workers as they passed by local businesses. Three girls in tie-dye shirts hung outside Vintage Exchange. One shouted, “Aww man, I want to be part of it!”

A smaller group gathered at City Hall, where some had set up tents earlier in the day. But the group remained peaceful, some lounging in the grass with dogs. An event organizer, Jalessa Blackshear collected contact information from protesters in a spiral notebook. A young girl in a pink tank top sprayed others with water. A woman passed around a stack of blank posters and a bag of markers.

“Let your voices be heard,” she said.

Lexxii Rohlsen, 27, of St. Pete marched with a sign that read “our babies, your target ... I can’t breathe.” She’s is a mother of three.

“I came because our babies are being targeted,“ she said. “They need to step up and stop killing our babies.”

She said the constitution needs to change so that all people really are equal under the law. And city officials need to stop building skyscrapers and “pushing us out of our own community."

Denzel Johnson-Green, a 25-year-old poet, said, “I can’t help being black. I’m here to help our cause. I moved around a lot as a kid and I know this is as much of a class problem as it is a race problem."

He added: "Black lives are important. We need to have some dialogue. Get around a table. Police and City Hall and protesters all need to get together and discuss practical solutions. We need some political scientists, and intellectuals.“

Brandon Polk, a 27-year-old massage therapist from St. Pete, had never been to a protest before.

“We need more community leaders instead of more police,” he said. "And we need someone to police the police.“

Polk said he had a faced oppression all of his life.

“I’m mixed. I grew up mostly with white people. I learned to white wash myself to be more accepted. I never got to get in touch with my black side," he said. "I learned from the white side to be proper. But that just ostracized me from my family. Here, I feel like I finally have a voice. I’m being heard. I’m not afraid to speak up.”

• • •

UPDATE: 4 P.M.: Hundreds gathered in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park Thursday prepared to march the streets of downtown Tampa.

Protesters chanted as they began to walk north toward Interstate 275 with the Armature Works food fall in nearby Tampa Heights as their destination. Florida Highway Patrol troopers blocked intersections along Ashley Drive.

But the protest quickly turned violent.

The group began to split up into smaller clusters as they moved down different streets toward the Tampa Heights neighborhood. Along the way, they met Tampa police officers, who sprayed pepper spray into the crowd. Protesters screamed and scattered through the streets. Some stayed behind to pour milk in those with burning eyes. An event organized was detained by police.

Protesters turned back, and gathered again at Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park.

Rayshod pressley, 28, was spinning a sign in the median in front of Curtis Hixon Park. It has over a dozen names of black Americans who died at the hands of law enforcement written on it. Rayshod is one of many Arrow Sign employees who are spinning signs with black lives matter messaging in the protests.

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