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Black Lives Matter marchers and message fills South Tampa streets

A large and well-organized protest marched on Bayshore Boulevard and S Howard Avenue into the heart of South Tampa.
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TAMPA — On Saturday, the protesters took over South Tampa.

About 2,000 or so people gathered at Fred Ball Park at 3 p.m. for an hour-long rally, and the organization was impressive. There were 13 groups working together to organize and run the march, said co-organizer Chaikirah Parker.

“This is a massive turnout,” Parker said. “And this isn’t even an accessible neighborhood to get to. This is what the organization leads to.”

While speakers took turns on the crowded stage, Kenneth Wynn, 56, was selling a stack of 500 Black Lives Matter Tampa T-shirts for $25 a piece.

Among the groups who helped organize the march against police violence and racism was Black Lives Matter Tampa, the Tampa Dream Defenders, the African American Muslim Alliance and the Hillsborough County Democrats.

Rebecca Rouch, 37, helped register voters. The South Tampa resident has attended other marches with her three sons, but this time she wanted to do more than walk.

"I was looking to do something that's measurable," she said. "Marching is important and raises awareness, but this also makes a difference in its own way."

Tati Orengo, co-founder of Sis Se Puede, a new group of Afro-Latina activists, said South Tampa was chosen for a reason.

“Having a march here … in this area is very important, especially because this area tends to exclude itself from the problems that are happening in the black and brown communities,” she said.

• • •

That afternoon, clergy assembled in Ybor City to lead a 2 p.m. march to Tampa City Hall.

Pastor Danny Osborne with Godside Family Christian Church said he marched for his 12-year-old twin boys. He wants them to live in a world where they won’t have to worry about police violence — both against themselves, and their future children.

“I’m 53-years-old and I’ve been through discrimination and racial profiling my whole life .... I want them to be able to live,” he said. “People who look like me, they understand. But a lot of people never knew this was going on until now.”

Zyreia Larry, 21, said she marched because she thinks people are finally paying attention to issues that long simmered and gone unaddressed.

“The black community has been attacked for many years,” she said. “We want to be heard.”

When they reached City Hall, they spoke of faith and situations of injustice. They spoke of the importance of voting.

They knelt and sang “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Pastor Larry Roundtree II of New Mount Zion Baptist Church thanked young people for marching and making waves, saying they were waking up his generation after they “dropped the ball” from their parents’ generation.

“They fought, they struggled, they bled, they marched,” he said. “But just like the parable Jesus told in Matthew 13, when we thought we were progressing we fell asleep.”

Roundtree said members of the clergy will be meeting with city officials this week to discuss policing issues and the protesters still facing unlawful assembly charges from recent marches.

They hope those charges will be dropped, he said, and their records are expunged so the arrests will not be held against them as they apply for jobs.

The clergy also plan to work on education and economic equality issues, he said.

“I think protests serve as an alarm clock,” he said. “But once the alarm clock has been sounded, it’s time for substantive change.”

• • •

The South Tampa march started at 4:30 p.m. they started the march, hundreds lining up behind a Black Lives Matter banner as they took over Bayshore Boulevard and headed for the heart of South Tampa.

As the protesters marched through narrow S Howard Avenue, apartment dwellers and restaurant patrons and vehicles suddenly going nowhere all raised their fists and started recording with their phones as the march passed by.

Their fists were raised as they marched by Bern’s Steak House, one of Tampa’s elite institutions.

When they got to W Swann Avenue, they kneeled.

Related: Family waits for answers after man dies in shooting involving five Tampa officers

The families of Jonas Joseph and Carl Norton Jr. then spoke.

The 26-year-old Joseph died in an April 28 shoot-out with Tampa police officers. Tampa police say he fired on the officers, but his family disputes that account and is demanding answers after they say he was shot 62 times by five officers. The family wants police videos of what happened.

“Release everything you guys have of Jonas,” said his mother, Otancile Colas.

The family of Carl Norton Jr., who died in a Florida prison in February at the age of 31, also spoke.

Then the marchers made their way back to Fred Ball Park.

Padonda Ali marched the route while 32-weeks pregnant. She walked with her 11 and 2-year old sons, Mikhail and Castile Olivares.

“I wanted to show my kids standing up for what they believe in is important,” she said.

Clare Guild also came with her sons. She wanted 10-year-old Alden and 12-year-old Jason to witness history, she said.

“They’re young now, but when they do understand I want them to look back and see we were a part of fighting against injustice,” she said.

Bicky Khosla said she was moved by the event. But she was disappointed that there weren’t more South Asians like herself attending the protests.

“You wear the culture, you do the rap music, (but) none of you are out here today,” she said.

Breanna King said she came to support those families who have fallen victim to police brutality.

“You never know if it could be your family next,” she said.

• • •

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.

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