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St. Petersburg protest starts with poetry, ends with meditation

The peaceful march went through the Historic Old Northeast and along the waterfront. Drivers honked their horns in support.

UPDATE 11 P.M.: Protesters wrapped up their march in downtown St. Petersburg Thursday night by doing the Cha Cha Slide.

The group ended a three-hour march across St. Pete at City Hall, where event organizers lead protesters in dance.

It was the end of the 13th day of protesting, and they showed no signs of slowing down.

Along Beach Drive, protesters cheered and chanted “march with us” when Mike and Roxanna Stoici left the Tryst bar and joined the group. They said their kids have been out regularly with the protests but they work and haven’t been able to make it. When they saw the crowd go by, it felt like the perfect time, Mike Stoici said.

It remained a peaceful night with no real police presence. The group plans to meet again tomorrow, as they have most days, to gather in the early afternoon and then the early evening for more marches.

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UPDATE 10 P.M.: Despite a later start due to rain delays, a sizable crowd marched the streets of downtown St. Petersburg to protest against police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man, George Floyd.

Protestors walked, biked, skateboarded and rollerbladed through downtown to Beach Drive. A van, full of supplies like water and snacks, brought up the rear of the march. In past nights, the march would halt in several intersections, where protesters would kneel and speakers would address the crowd. But tonight, the group stopped just once to kneel and raise their fists along Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street S. Otherwise they just kept marching.

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UPDATE 9 P.M.: As the rain passed, protesters took to the damp streets of St. Petersburg.

Samaria Odom, 7, came with her bicycle for her first march. Her mom Nicole, 33, said she’s had trouble with police in St. Pete.

“With her being 7, it’s time to know what’s going on," she said. "If anything were ever to happen to me again with police, I need her to know what to do.”

Later, once the march got started, 7-year-old Samaria Odom raised her fist as she rode her bike with training wheels down Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street.

Her mom started crying as she watched her daughter. “I didn’t have to tell her. She did it on her own. I’m so proud.”

Samiya Serrano, 18, came wearing a mask and a rain poncho. She started marching on June 1.

“I was watching the deaths on the news, social media... and no justice has come from those deaths," she said. "It was sitting heavy in my heart, and I felt like I couldn’t do anything. Then I heard about the march and I had to come out here.”

She admitted that marching almost every day while working a 9-to-5 job gets tiring.

“My feet were killing me. My legs were locking up," Serrano said. “When I did take a day off I did feel like crap because I wanted to be out here.”

Energy among the protesters remained high, despite the rain. A police patrol car crawled by the march while protesters chanted “no justice, no peace, no racist police.”

As the protest moved down Central Avenue, workers from passing restaurants stepped outside to show support. Employees of the Cider Press Cafe jumped up and down and cheered as the crowd marched by. A woman at the Lure restaurant pumped her first in the air.

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UPDATE 7 P.M.: Dark clouds hovered over City Hall as about 40 protesters gathered, ready to march for a second time through the streets of downtown St. Petersburg.

Protesters stood under tents set up in the grass as they waited for the summer storm to pass.

Denzel Johnson-Green was there, for the 13th day of protests.

“Your voice will give out," he said. "The spirit is willing but the body is weak. Your ankles will hurt. If it rains you will get cold. You will get weighed down.“

But the urgency is real.

“It reminds you of the cause and the urgency of why we do this," Johnson-Green said. "When you come here you’re also learning about the struggle of being black and being pinned as scary. Police officers and white women have done a lot to kill black men in this country.”

Every day protesters are getting more sophisticated, Johnson-Green said. They’re bringing bottled water and catered food brought to the march. Bicyclists wear fluorescent vests while shielding them from traffic. Marchers stretched, drank tea with honey and rehearsed new techniques for shouting before their long walk began.

For another night, protesters did not gather in Tampa neighborhoods. A few stragglers showed up with signs but left when the rain started. But more events continued to pop up for the upcoming weekend in popular Tampa parks.

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UPDATE 5 P.M.: Drivers honked their horns and pumped their fists from their car windows as they drove by.

On nearby corners, people walking their dogs stopped to join the march and the chants of “No justice, no peace.”

The protest turned onto First Street N, filling the entire road as they walked past 18th Avenue NE.

Then they returned to City Hall. They sat in the grass drinking Gatorade and eating peanut butter and jelly sandwiches.

The protest started with poetry. It ended with meditation.

“We’re spreading the same message here as they are in Tampa,” Johnson-Green said. “But this is pretty St. Pete hippie dippy.”

The protest was set to resume at 7 p.m.

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UPDATE 4 P.M.: St. Petersburg College student Xavier Alvarez, 21, has already been at two protests. He was back at it on Thursday.

“It’s been 14 days,” he said. “We still need justice for all of the unarmed, unnamed black men and women that have been killed for generations, for centuries.

“It doesn’t seem like the elected officials or police care. They know we’re here. But they don’t care. Nothings changed. I’d like to see Breonna Taylor’s investigation reopened.”

He carried this sign: “Racism is not controversial if you’re not racist."

He continued: “Maybe if all these people in all the states across the country are all doing this then they’ll realize that is a problem maybe just everyone didn’t know about it. It’s easy to say it doesn’t involve you. Or you don’t wanna get involved. But it affects us all."

The group stopped at Bay Street NE and 22nd Avenue NE, near Coffee Pot Bayou Park. Protest organizer Denzel Johnson-Green was very cognizant of the affluence of the neighborhood.

“They feel the fire the least because they don’t have to be next to it," he told the crowd. "We have to remind these comfy people that people of color are dying.”

Then he read a poem about Emmett Till, the 14-year-old African American child who was lynched in Mississippi in 1955, making him an icon of the Civil Rights movement.

There were no police officers within sight.

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UPDATE 3:30 P.M.: The crowd swelled to about 100. A white van stood ready to trail the march, carrying water and prepared to give a lift to anyone who needs one in the heat.

A man with the black megaphone stood in front of the crowd and kicked it off.

“St. Pete make some noise! Let us hear it! Let us hear you! This is for George Floyd. Let’s enjoy every moment. I need you. I need your energy. This is for righteousness. We have to shine bright like the sun. “

And then he prayed for the walkers, the leaders and for George Floyd and his family. “We’re doing this for them.“

At University Way and Fourth Avenue N, two landscapers stopped to lean on their rakes and listen.

"Join us,” the crowd shouted. “Join us! join us!”

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UPDATE 3 P.M.: On Thursday, the protests started with poetry.

Denzel Johnson-Green read poetry to about 70 protesters sitting in the grass across from City Hall, reading from the book “BreakBeat Poets: New American Poetry in the Age of Hip-Hop.”

The plan was to start marching at 3 p.m. and spend an hour or so walking through neighborhoods. Fresh Kitchen donated meals and water to the protesters.

But while the protests continue in the streets, behind the scenes organizers are planning and talking.

“I fear our bodies will fail us before our spirits,” said Johnson-Green, 25. “Change takes a long time. ... We met as black leaders last night and next want to meet with police.

"We have a lot of demands. We want body cameras on every officer and no paid leave for police being investigated for infractions.”

Denzel Johnson-Green, sitting under the tree, reads poetry to about 70 protesters gathered outside St. Petersburg City Hall on Thursday. [ LANE DEGREGORY | Times ]

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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times

HOW TO SUPPORT: Whether you’re protesting or staying inside, here are ways to educate yourself and support black-owned businesses.

WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.

WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local, national protests.

WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.

CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.

HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.

SOME NEW, SOME LONGTIME FAVORITES: Here are 15 black-owned restaurants and food businesses in Tampa Ba

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