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Protests continue in Tampa, St. Pete on Monday

Protests continued on Monday in St. Petersburg, Largo and later in Tampa and Dunedin
Yohance Wicks, left, sets the cadence for members of the public defender's offices with Florida's 6th, 12th, and 13th judicial circuits, past and present, and their family and friends, as they march south on 49th Street North from the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater on Monday, June 8, 2020.
Yohance Wicks, left, sets the cadence for members of the public defender's offices with Florida's 6th, 12th, and 13th judicial circuits, past and present, and their family and friends, as they march south on 49th Street North from the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center in Clearwater on Monday, June 8, 2020. [ DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times ]
Published Jun. 8, 2020|Updated Jun. 9, 2020

UPDATE 9:30 P.M.: Protesters continued to shout as they wandered deeper into the Snell Isle neighborhood in St. Petersburg.

Some residents flashed the lights in their home windows to show support. Others wandered out to the street to watch as the group walked by. People walked and rode bikes. They were followed by a train of honking cars.

As the protestors crossed the bridge from the Old Northeast neighborhood into Snell Isle, event organizer Terron Gland told protesters he wanted it to feel like Mardi Gras.

“We’re sick and tired of being abused and misused and judged because of the color of our skin,” he said. “We didn’t ask to be black. If I knew that I could be privileged, I would have chose to be your color.”

“Reach down into your heart and give us a chance,” Gland continued. “We want to be able to walk through your neighborhood without you locking your doors or shutting your blinds.”

Gland kept talking, as the group stopped in the middle of the neighborhood and they drew more people out of their homes.

“We like your neighborhood. It’s beautiful. I’m sorry that they don’t pay enough attention to the south side of St. Pete," he said. “We go to work and pay our taxes too.”

He talked about income disparities for black people. “I’m sorry that they don’t pay us the same dollar. We may have the same education level, but just because you’re white, you’ll make more money than I will," Gland said. "That’s just how the world works. That’s just the system.”

He said the group wants to break the chain.

“That’s why we’re coming here. We’re not shooting and looting and trying to break up your stuff. We want to wake you up,” he said. “That’s why we’re making noise. We want you to get on board.”

Pat Mason, a 75-year-old woman, stepped forward off the sidewalk and into the street to hug Gland.

“Well, I’m just glad you all came,” she said, upon asking if she could speak into the megaphone. “We’ve been watching everyone on TV and I can tell you, everyone on our street is totally with you.”

She added: "We appreciate what you are doing, and we just need to keep it up.”

Mason said she would’ve marched with them but couldn’t because of her age. “So I’m glad you came to me."

Jabaar Edmond, 41, is a longtime community activist from Childs Park. He’s lived in St. Pete his entire life and has never been to Snell Isle, aside from driving the main road once.

“And now I’m here with 100 people around me," he said.

The crowds began to thin in Ybor City around 9 p.m. But a few stragglers gathered near the Interstate 4 overpass where they got close to Florida Highway Patrol troopers.

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They kneeled with fists in the air, the lights of the patrol cars lighting up their faces. But the group remained peaceful until they disbanded around 9:30 p.m.

• • •

UPDATE 8 P.M.: In Dunedin, residents gathered for a vigil in Pioneer Park on Monday night.

Some brought homemade signs and others wore masks. Dunedin Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski was in attendance.

“We need to stand together against what’s happening in our country," she said. She said she thinks people are afraid to come out because of what they’ve seen on TV.

“But I wanted to show people I’m not afraid,” Ward Bujalski said.

Dunedin is a community that embraces all walks of life, she said, in a short address to the crowd. "We love each other because of our differences, not in spite of them.”

Jason Knott, a pastor of First United Methodist Church of Dunedin across from Pioneer Park was also at the vigil.

“I know that I’m a straight white male," he said. "But I’m out here trying to be an ally.”

The vigil ended around 8:30 p.m. There was little police presence in the area.

In Ybor City, the group of protesters grew to be hundreds in size. There was no police presence until the group turned toward Interstate 4. The group remained peaceful, even though Florida Highway Patrol troopers stood guard at the on-ramp entrances.

They marched through the streets of the city, stopping nearby at James Joyce Pub, where they shouted profanities. Some protesters said that the owner of the pub allegedly threatened to shoot them with paintball guns last week.

In St. Petersburg, the crowd of protesters shouted “march with us!” to diners at Beach Drive restaurants. Some diners raised their fists in support. Josh and Michelle Dempsey joined in.

The couple has been on vacation in St. Petersburg, so they haven’t been able to participate in protests at home in Cincinnati. They had just finished dinner at Parkshore Grill.

“That couldn’t have been more convenient,” Josh Dempsey said.

Some people danced in the street while holding their signs.

Protest leader Terron Gland spoke out directly to some diners, as the group neared the edge of Beach Drive. He called for action.

By 8:45 p.m., protesters reached Snell Isle, home of some of the most expensive real estate in St. Petersburg. They screamed, belting chants louder than before, to try to get the attention of people inside their homes. No police tailed the march, as they had in previous nights. The St. Petersburg Police headquarters remained quiet Monday night.

“This is the white privilege neighborhood. They don’t want us here,” said Terron Gland, one of the protest organizers. "I want to scream, shout, yell, and I don’t want it to stop. Wake them up. That’s what we came over here for ... Let them know what we want ... Hello, we want to live over here too.”

Shawn Thomas, a student pastor at Mount Zion Progressive Missionary Baptist Church, was at a park near the city’s waterfront when he heard the chants. He, his wife and their five children ran over to join.

“We definitely support the movement and we think this is a just cause,” he said.

• • •

UPDATE 7 P.M.: Protesters chanted and gathered outside of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office in Ybor City Monday evening, calling for community control over local police.

Semi Rogers, 23, has attended five protests since George Floyd’s death. He was pepper sprayed by police on Tuesday night.

He said he was “paying attention” when developers began tearing down public housing units without any plan for where its residents would go. Rogers, who grew up in Tampa, said he remembers the anger he felt for Tampa police and his lack of surprise over the Tampa Bay Timesarticles about “biking while black."

“How is it that now, after everything that’s happened the past 10 days, nobody’s talking about it,” he said. “Nothing has changed. I think Jane Castor is a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and now she’s not even bothering with the clothing."

Rogers said the issue of black people being stopped by police while biking in Tampa still needs to be addressed.

“Police brutality needs to be addressed. The huge Confederate flag flying over our interstate needs to be addressed,” he said. “This time we’re not going to stop until it does. Until we see change."

Rogers said there is no going back to what was normal before the civil unrest, and before Floyd’s death.

“Normal no longer exists,” he said. "Normal for Tampa was oppressing black people, deporting Latino people, ignoring and persecuting transgender people. We won’t go back to that normal. I think George Floyd’s death was the catalyst for change here, I really do. I have to believe that change is coming.”

About 50 people gathered outside of City Hall in St. Petersburg for a second round of marching around 7 p.m. There protesters set up a table with snacks, water and sunscreen.

Protest leader Terron Gland said the march route Monday night was expected to be Beach Drive toward Snell Isle.

“We’re going through the richest part of town,” he said. “Wake they ass up. We want them to know we’re coming.”

He also riffed on the chant “no justice, no peace." “No justice, no sleep.”

Gland said the event is well organized. People are broken up into groups with jobs to do, from medical to traffic control, to security, to who is running social media and the arts and crafts table. Another department was dedicated solely to voting.

“If you don’t believe in voting, you might not need to be here," Gland said. "Because if we don’t vote, we won’t be getting justice.”

• • •

UPDATE 5:30 P.M.: Protesters gathered in Centennial Park in Ybor City Monday afternoon to keep the Black Lives Matter movement going strong in Tampa Bay.

One woman shouted from a megaphone as others chanted with her: “No justice! No peace!”

The protesters fought off persistent mariachi music in the distance as they stood outside of the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office building adjacent to the park.

In St. Petersburg, an early march of protesters disbanded before 5 p.m. after moving south of the city’s downtown core and around neighborhood streets. The plan was to meet again around 7 p.m. for a second march.

• • •

UPDATE 2 P.M.: About 40 people gathered outside of City Hall in St. Petersburg Monday, despite the hot and humid weather, to continue protesting against police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man, George Floyd.

Leah Orleans, 24, is a circus performer who has been stuck in St. Pete since her tour was canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic.

“I don’t live in Florida year-round. I feel lucky to be in a place where I can walk around with a rainbow flag and protest peacefully,” she said. “It’s well organized, and it’s peaceful. It produces real communication.”

The goal of the day, organizers said, was to march faster and stop less, “unless there’s a message to tell on that part of town." Some were assigned jobs - like to man the “arts and crafts department." Another woman was leading the rally to get out and vote.

By 3 p.m., the group had grown to about 60, and were on the move with signs and chants.

On 49th Street and Ulmerton Road near Largo, nearly 70 public defenders from Pinellas and Pasco counties and their supporters marched in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement.

The march ended with an 8-minute, 46-second moment of silence for George Floyd in front of the Pinellas County Criminal Justice Center.

A protest in Ybor City is scheduled to begin in Tampa round 5:30 p.m.

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