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As protests continue in Tampa and St. Pete, voting becomes a focus

Smaller, peaceful groups marched on both sides of the bay.

ST. PETERSBURG — Organizer Will Breeze addressed the crowd of protesters in front of City Hall on Sunday afternoon. Through a megaphone he reminded everyone to be energetic, to be open to new people and new ideas and to drink plenty of water as the group set out in the sweltering heat for what he said was their 31st march through the city in 16 days.

Matter of factly, he added: “We’re adding a name to the list.”

That would be the list of those who have died because of police brutality and racism, he said, the names who protesters have been chanting while demonstrating across Tampa Bay and the country.

That list now includes the name of Rayshard Brooks, a 27-year-old black man who was fatally shot in the back by an Atlanta police officer this weekend after an encounter with police turned violent.

The marchers chanted Brooks’ name many times on Sunday, as a caravan of cars, bicycles and around 100 to 200 on foot carried signs and marched from City Hall through downtown, along the waterfront, and through the affluent Historic Old Northeast neighborhood.

Beyond the daily chants of “no justice, no peace,” organizers emphasized the importance of voting. During a break beneath an oak tree canopy, community activist Carla Bristol gave a lesson on vote-by-mail to demonstrators.

A few raised their hands when Bristol asked if they didn’t trust mailing in their ballots. Bristol, a frequent march participant, explained what she saw as the benefits: you get your ballot early, which allows you to research candidates and issues; you can drop it off in person rather than depending on the mail; and you can check online to make sure your ballot was received. Bristol also emphasized that it’s not just about the president.

“You have to vote in the local elections,” she said.

The group has slanted younger, but a handful of older adults joined Sunday’s march. One was Bahiyyah Sadiki, who marched with her granddaughters, holding a sign with a painted sun: “All one under the sun.”

Sadiki, a retired Gibbs High School teacher in her 60s, said she’s invited friends, but some are hesitant to join because of the pandemic. Sadiki said she isn’t worried about herself.

“I run half marathons for fun,” she said, and she teaches six Zumba classes a week. Along with Sadiki’s grandchildren, a few younger faces joined the march.

Serenity Donar, 7, rides in an organizer's car during protests in St. Petersburg Sunday, June 14, 2020. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Five-year-old Eternity Donar took it a step further, leading a chant: “No justice,” she said into a megaphone that was half her size, held by her uncle Terron Gland. “No peace!” the crowd yelled.

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In Tampa’s Hyde Park, there was a Sunday afternoon brunch march for the second week in a row.

Connie Burton has lived in East Tampa her whole life — 65 years. She came to “continue the conversation about the evilness of America, that has reached its boiling point.”

Burton has been an active in the Tampa civil rights movement for decades. She’s seen black people be pushed out of their homes, out of their neighborhoods.

“I’ve lived old enough to know that being humble and peaceful doesn’t yield the net results,” Burton said.

Lauren Matthews was just 11 when she attended her first protest march.

Perhaps that why the 18-year-old, who is the valedictorian at Middleton High School, didn’t hesitate when asked to take the bullhorn and address a crowd of 100 protestors in Soho.

“I think this is a time now where we’re going to make a real change,” she said after the march. “There have been times in the past where we’ve protested and then things went back the same and now is a time where change is forever, for real.”

A couple hours later in downtown Tampa, another small group gathered to demand that Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren drop charges against the protestors who were arrested on June 3, when the demonstrations first started.

In response to the protest, Warren’s office said that it was still reviewing the cases and have not yet made a decision.

Nebula Jackson, 24 of the Florida restoration rights coalition talked with the crowd about registering to vote. A group of about 100 gathered in downtown Tampa to protest against racism and police brutality on Sunday, June 14, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The brunch protest eventually swelled to about 100 people.

Nebula Jackson, 24, was there on behalf of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition to encourage protesters to register to vote. She said the majority of her registrations have not been from people of color and that she is shocked to see more white people than black people protesting today.

But it’s a good thing to see a diverse crowd, she said.

“It’s a sign of unity,” she said. “It brings me joy to see people come together. It’s a sign of the times. In the ’60s it was all black people, now it’s everyone.”

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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 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.