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Protesters continue to march in downtown St. Petersburg

Protesters remember TyRon Lewis, who was 18 in 1996 when he was killed by police in St. Pete.
Demonstrators arrive for one of two daily marches in protest of police brutality and racism in the wake of George Floyd's death, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg.
Demonstrators arrive for one of two daily marches in protest of police brutality and racism in the wake of George Floyd's death, on Tuesday, June 16, 2020 in St. Petersburg. [ MARTHA ASENCIO RHINE | Times ]
Published Jun. 18, 2020
Updated Jun. 18, 2020

UPDATE 9 P.M.: The crowd of nearly 75 people stopped in the busy intersection at 34th Street and 22nd Avenue N, where they formed a circle underneath the traffic lights.

Some irritated drivers honked their horns and revved their engines at protesters. Even as people became upset, Breeze, an event organizer, held the group firm in the intersection. He said a black man can be a slave, “but you’re getting mad about waiting at a stoplight for five, 10 minutes. I don’t get it.”

A tense moment erupted as a motorcyclist tried to move through the crowd of people.

“What are you solving? You’re blocking traffic,” said the motorcyclist, Zachary Otte, 26, of St. Petersburg.

Protesters swarmed closer, some screaming. Several told him to go. He revved his engine. Later, video of the incident would show that a protester grabbed his backpack from behind. He ended up on the ground with his bike. No violence broke out. Otte said he called the police.

“I tried to go through the road,” he said. “This is the problem. All this is the problem... This is straight bullsh-t!” Otte stayed at the corner of the intersection while assessing the damage to his bike and gear. The visor of his bike helmet wouldn’t connect. He said a foot peg came off, too.

Terron Gland, a leader with the St. Pete Peace Protest, said he was off to the side on the phone when the conflict happened.

“That was an escalation that could have been prevented,” he said. “When people want to get by that bad just let them go.”

Otte eventually got back on his bike and left. He caught back up with the march, where he tried to engage with protesters again before speeding off.

• • •

Protesters gathered at City Hall for the 18th day of marching Wednesday. Homemade signs littered the grass outside the building - marchers could pick up a sign to carry on their walk, or make their own.

The usual route was shorter on Wednesday around 2 p.m., thanks in part to thinner crowds and the summer heat. The group marched down Central Avenue and into the Old Northeast neighborhood.

Livia Creel, 54, is a breast cancer survivor and a first time protester in St. Pete.

“It’s the patriot in me," she said.

She’s scared for her mixed-race children, particularly her son. Despite her health risks, she said she couldn’t do nothing.

“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” Creel said tearing up.

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Some neighbors raised their fists in support as protesters walked by. The group stopped to cheer the recent news of the former Atlanta cop who killed Rayshard Brooks was charged with felony murder Wednesday.

People met again at City Hall around 7 p.m. for a second march across downtown. Terron Gland, a leader with the St. Pete Peace Protest said he hopes to keep marching for more than a year.

Will Breeze, one of the event organizers, is often at the megaphone. He calls out names most now know — George Floyd, Michael Brown, Breonna Taylor, Sandra Bland. And one known locally: TyRon Lewis. Lewis was 18 in 1996 when he was killed by police in St. Pete.

Related: How 3 killings by police sparked past Tampa Bay riots

After that killing, the city was home to riots. Breeze, who moved here about a decade ago, said he has learned about Lewis but many people in these marches don’t know his story.

“He’s one of our George Floyds,” Breeze said.

Gland said he was eight when Lewis died. He doesn’t remember the riots either, but he called that a “negative” past. These marches, organizers have said, are strictly peaceful.

There was no police presence among protesters Wednesday.

In Tampa, some flyers made the rounds on social media about events Wednesday, but few protesters gathered downtown. More events are scheduled Friday and through the weekend.

• • •

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.