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Protests end peacefully Friday night across Tampa Bay

Protests continued in Clearwater, Tampa and St. Petersburg on Friday.
Zoey Triplett, 9, left, cuddles with her mother, Amy Triplett, 49, center, of Safety Harbor, while attending a peaceful protest organized by the Bless Up organization, on Friday, June 5, 2020, at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. At right is Byron Triplett, 53, Zoey's father and Amy's husband.
Zoey Triplett, 9, left, cuddles with her mother, Amy Triplett, 49, center, of Safety Harbor, while attending a peaceful protest organized by the Bless Up organization, on Friday, June 5, 2020, at Coachman Park in downtown Clearwater. At right is Byron Triplett, 53, Zoey's father and Amy's husband. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 5, 2020
Updated Jun. 9, 2020

UPDATE 11 P.M.: Protests ended Friday night peacefully and without incident across Tampa Bay.

UPDATE 8 P.M.: Protesters continued to march the streets of downtown St. Petersburg, passing by busy restaurants on Central Avenue as they went.

Demonstrations happening in other parts of Tampa Bay, like downtown Tampa, Clearwater and Brooksville, ended earlier in the evening due to the rainy weather.

St. Petersburg Police implored marchers to stick to the sidewalk, a request they largely ignored over the last week. Today officers asked them to at least stick to the correct side of the street, which the crowd seemed to abide by Friday night.

Organizers lead the march from City Hall west on Central Avenue to 22nd Street. The plan, organizers said, was to march through the Deuces corridor down to 18th Avenue S and eventually over to Beach Drive, where the protest would end for the night.

The group did not circle by police headquarters Friday. Though a small group gathered there on their own.

Rob Wilson stayed at the police station to make sure protesters’ presence was still remembered.

Worried about COVID-19, he stayed away from tonight’s march.

“I’m trying to help however I can," he said. "It’s tough to do this in a pandemic.”

• • •

UPDATE 6 P.M.: Florida Highway Patrol troopers convened on N Ashley Drive for a second day in a row as protestors marched through downtown Tampa streets.

But the two groups never clashed.

The protesters remained largely peaceful, and by 6:30 p.m., organizers told everyone to go home. A planned march at Centennial Park in Ybor City was canceled Friday due to weather. Ybor City remained quiet.

Christopher Dawson, 27, was the organizer for Friday’s protest in downtown Tampa that ended around 6:30 p.m. He’s a father of two that wanted to organize an event that was accessible for everybody, both young and old.

“We need everyone we can,” he said. “We need the older generation to teach us and guide us because they went through it. They understand what’s needed to make change. We need to come together with our youth and our technological advances, we need to combine that with their heart."

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In St. Petersburg, a group of more than 100 kept up the momentum as they moved from south St. Pete into downtown. They sat in the middle of the intersection at Central Avenue and 5th Street. There they sang happy birthday to Breonna Taylor, who died at the hands of police. She would have been 27 today.

State Sen. Darryl Rouson joined the crowd at the intersection. “We must find a way to feel hope through a tragic situation and turn that to victory," he said in a short address.

The group then moved on to City Hall.

Some made signs under a tent. Others sat in the grass. It was unclear if the group would continue to march. But hundreds still hovered there, with signs and rain gear in hand.

• • •

UPDATE 4 P.M.: As more rain threatened to drench Tampa Bay, protesters started earlier in the day on Friday to make their voices heard.

People gathered in Clearwater’s Coachman Park around 2:30 p.m. to listen to speakers and raise their fists in solidarity. As many as 200 people sat in the park grass, some with homemade signs. They stayed quiet during an eight-minute span of silence to honor George Floyd, a Minneapolis man who died last week at the hands of police.

Despite the hovering dark clouds, most participants stayed until the rain finally came around 5 p.m. The event was organized by Bless Up, a community group founded in 2017 by Vanessa Allen, 25, who grew up in Clearwater, and now lives in Palm Harbor.

Bri Fallahee, 21, spoke at the event. While on stage, she said white people must actively work to dismantle racial injustice.

“We have to act not only as allies but accomplices,” she said. "We as white people should be doing the work to dismantle a society built on white supremacy.”

Alliya Lewis was 8 when Trayvon Martin was killed in 2012. Now she’s 16 and came to the Clearwater rally ready to help.

“Now I’m older and I understand more," she said. "I want to support the movement as much as possible.”

Alliya came with a sign that read “Black people are literally saying ‘stop killing us!’ and there are people saying ‘but…’”

People, she said, need to shift their priorities: “It’s a shame stores are getting damaged, but killing black people needs to stop.”

In St. Petersburg, a group of nearly 150 gathered around 5 p.m. in the Old Southeast neighborhood and began marching toward downtown.

Jerrell Ward, 28, was donating blood when a group of protesters walked by earlier in the week, and he’s been involved in the movement ever since. Ward said he wants to get to a place where tough conversations aren’t so tough anymore.

He said it’s not about one officer or one law. “It’s about the whole system being unjust.”

Ward said the group will be out until they get justice. He added that he knows that can’t happen overnight, but the group hopes to protest until the November election.

In Tampa, hundreds of protesters gathered in front of the George Edgecomb Courthouse in Tampa just as the rain began. They carried signs that said “Color is not a crime,” and “I will never understand, but I stand." Another read: “Jesus died for black lives and so I will fight for black lives.”

Before 5 p.m., the crowd began to move toward Curtis Hixon Park, where protestors had also gathered yesterday. In a tense moment of force, police pushed protesters back from Interstate 275 Thursday. They detained an event organizer and pepper sprayed other protesters near by.

Despite the early moment of violence, Thursday’s protest remained peaceful in Tampa through the night.

There was no police presence Friday as the group chanted at the park around 5 p.m. “This is a peaceful protest. If you’re going to cause problems please leave,” one woman shouted through a megaphone.

Lots of cars honk as they pass. One woman raised a fist out her driver’s side window. Another shouted, “say her!” Moments later the crowd chants the names George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.