Protests continue Friday ahead of an expected busy weekend

“Black people are out here painting the streets with their blood. And police are the artists," one protester said.
Protesters march along Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday, June 12, 2020.
Protesters march along Central Avenue in downtown St. Petersburg on Friday, June 12, 2020. [ Martha Asencio-Rhine ]
Published Jun. 12, 2020|Updated Jun. 13, 2020

UPDATE 10 P.M.: Rain slowed the march of St. Petersburg protesters as they left Snell Isle and made their way back toward downtown St. Petersburg.

In Tampa, a candlelight vigil on the University of South Florida campus ended at 9:30 p.m. USF students were energized, despite some somber moments during the vigil. They passed out flyers for a Juneteenth event happening next week.

Moesha Tadeus, a USF senior a senior studying public health, talked about how Martin Luther King Jr. came to Tampa, and stood where protesters stood Friday.

“We’re standing right where he spoke," she said, and continued to talk about USF’s opening as an integrated university.

Tadeus said she’s hopeful about the university supporting their organization.

“There was laughter, there was unity,” said Dannavan Fulton, a junior studying integrated public relations and advertising at USF. He said he felt it was good for a night to have a little less pressure.

For him personally, he said, he felt enlightened. The last two weeks have been hard and heavy. This might be the first time he’s "feeling like there’s a chance change can actually happen.”

In St. Petersburg, protesters ended the night by dancing in the street. Tonight’s song of choice was “Wobble.”

• • •

UPDATE 8:30 P.M.: Nearly 100 people gathered around the reflecting pool at MLK Plaza on the University of South Florida campus Friday night for a peaceful vigil.

Some wrote words like “breathe” and “we matter” in chalk on the sidewalk, and other messages around a central bust of Martin Luther King Jr.

Dominique Sanon, 61, of Tampa, wrote “my children” and “future.” She said she has three adult kids and four grandchildren. She is “worried when they get out of the car, when they get out of the house,” not for an accident, but because they need to “watch out for the cops.”

Devonte Peacock, 20, a USF senior studying criminology led the group in a prayer when the event began, then gave a speech he read from his phone.

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“Why is it that melanin is treated like oil and vinegar when the blood of my ancestors is mixed and infused with the very soil that we step on today?” Peacock said.

People gathered around the reflecting pool with candles after an 8-minute and 46-second span of silence for George Floyd, the same amount of time a police officer was on Floyd’s neck in Minneapolis.

Alliyah Edwards, who just graduated from USF with political science and criminology degrees, was one of several speakers. “You say, ‘Forget the past.’ I say, ‘Flood the streets with it.'"

Moesha Tadeus, a senior studying public health, helped hand out chalk.

“This is not a trend. This is not TikTok," she said. "Our ancestors had to boycott for more than a year to get the rights we have now. Write something to remind somebody who forgot about this and walks by in a week.”

Tadeus helped organize Friday’s event.

“I’m so afraid people think it’s cute to post (on social media) and then think ‘I’m done'," she said.

She added that the group plans to organize more events. She said she hopes students don’t let schoolwork in the fall become an excuse to stay home.

• • •

UPDATE 7:30 P.M.: The University of South Florida campus was empty on Friday evening, with students no longer living on campus due to COVID-19, until a group gathered in MLK Plaza near the Marshall Student Center. There they honored George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland, Rodney King and other people of color who died at the hands of police.

Dannavan Fulton, 20, a junior studying integrated public relations and advertising at USF, set the tone for the evening as a time to “just feel.” Organizers placed small photos of Floyd and others who have died with battery-operated candles along the plaza’s reflecting pool and near a central bust statue of Martin Luther King, Jr.

A group called Nine, made up of current USF students and alumni, organized the event.

Kimberley Charles, a social worker at the nearby Moffitt Cancer Center said she’s been following the protests but this is her first time participating in one. She said the movement has a message that needs to be heard by “anyone who doesn’t understand why we’re doing this.”

“It’s motivating to see everyone come together for the same cause,” she said, adding that it’s important to have black social workers “to provide culturally competent care and sensitivity to the times and so we can serve the entire patient.”

Meanwhile at Macfarlane Park in Tampa, another group of about 50 chanted “no justice, no peace” as they marched away from the park and eventually down Kennedy Boulevard. Evening rain slowed the march, which disbanded by 8:30 p.m.

In St. Petersburg, about 80 people gathered for the second protest of the day at City Hall. They moved through downtown, despite looming storms, toward Snell Isle.

Chanel Dupree, 27, was marching with her 11-year-old brother.

“The power is with the people, and I’m personally done with a fascist police force,” she said. Police need to better deescalate and improve their personal skills, she said.

Brooke Yoder, 40, of St. Pete, is a Pinellas County teacher. She held a sign that read: “Your compassion is not enough. Anti-racism is not a feeling. It is action.” And the back of the sign it read: “And my dad says so too!” with a photo of him.

Yoder’s dad, Merle is 89, lives in Ohio and can’t leave the house because of the pandemic. He no longer drives. But he’s been watching news on TV and has seen the violence in other cities. She thought her dad would discourage her from going to the protest out of fear of similar unrest.

“Instead he told me he was really proud of me, and whatever I write, say that my dad said so too, because if he could, he’d be out here too," Yoder said.

• • •

UPDATE 6 P.M.: St. Petersburg protesters returned to City Hall after marching a wide lap around downtown, which included a stop at Crescent Lake Park.

Despite the summer heat, organizers kept the energy high as they neared the end of the march. “You think we won’t be back tomorrow?" they shouted. “You must don’t know 'bout me. How often we going to be out here?Every g--damn day."

Karina Hensberry brought her two children, ages five and eight, with her to the protest.

“Not coming out wasn’t an option," she said. “We felt we needed to do something and this is something really tangible for them. They are aware there are bullies. Bullies that are police, bullies (like the) president and you have to stand up to them.”

Protesters talked about the economic discrimination in St. Petersburg, as they passed signs showing new condominium buildings set to be under construction soon around Crescent Lake. They said black and brown people are being priced out of the historic Uptown neighborhood and others.

A second march in St. Pete was scheduled to begin from City Hall around 7 p.m.

In Tampa, protesters gathered at Macfarlane Park around 6 p.m. after earlier scheduled events drew no crowds.

The protest, organized by The Rainbow Coalition, was meant to honor the lives of Tony McDade, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and other people of color killed by police.

“We need to be in the same page against brutality and injustice,” said Alex Heron, 26, an event organizer.

Michelle and Michael Peña came tonight to support the movement for racial justice.

“We’re looking for truth, justice and to stand up for freedom for our black brothers,” Michell Peña said.

There was no police presence at the event as of 6:45 p.m., where around 40 people gathered.

• • •

UPDATE 4 P.M.: Protesters gathered at City Hall, as they have for 14 straight days, before marching through downtown St. Petersburg to protest against police brutality and the death of Minneapolis man, George Floyd.

Every day a group of bicyclists donning florescent yellow vests help guide the group, of sometimes hundreds, through the traffic on St. Pete streets. They block cars in intersections to allow the march to safely pass through. It’s just one part of a much larger coordinated effort by event organizers to keep protesters safe and secure. In past nights, a white van full of supplies like water bottles and snacks, trailed the marchers, blaring music and honking in unison with chants to keep the energy high.

On Friday afternoon, Hailey Reyes of Italy Bottega on Central Avenue, handed out salami and cheese to marchers. Owner Frederick Fanelli told a Tampa Bay Times reporter they’ve been doing this every day.

Denzel Johnson-Green, one of the event organizers, read poetry at the beginning of march. He continued to shout words meant to inspire while they walked.

“Black people are out here painting the streets with their blood. And police are the artists," he said.

The march’s route went form Central Avenue and was headed toward Crescent Lake Park.

Claudia Roebuck, 22, came from Lakeland and has been to protests in Tampa and Orlando too. She had her 2-year-old son with her Friday afternoon.

“I’ve dealt with a lot and when he’s older, I don’t want him to have to go through the same things," Roebuck said. “If we’re constant with this I think we’ll see change.”

At City Hall, where protesters first began to gather around 2 p.m., some volunteers were helping others register to vote. There were snacks and drinks available under tents.

Ana Maria Vasquez was there representing the Border Patrol Victims Network. She’s said she hopes the attention on police brutality will bring justice to people killed by Border Patrol, too.

“George Floyd opened people’s hearts," she said. "We’re in a pandemic so they have time to read the news (and) process news.”

Several events were scheduled for Tampa early Friday afternoon, but parks remained empty. A group is expected to gather at MacFarlane Park in Tampa at 6 p.m. and at the MLK Plaza on the University of South Florida campus at 7 p.m.

• • •

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 and 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.