TAMPA — Graffiti on the Riverwalk and Bayshore Boulevard. A statue of Christopher Columbus stamped with Black Lives Matter symbols.
People walking in South Tampa on Tuesday observed graffiti on different landmarks. One South Tampa man said residents are frustrated and feel intimidated by frequent protests in their neighborhoods in recent weeks.
“This is not about trying to make a point about racial equality. This is about intimidation,” said Steve Michelini, a local consultant who also represents South Howard restaurants.
Michelini said he was riding his bike on Davis Islands on Saturday when a group of protesters were blocking the road. As he rode past, he said, several of them “raised their fists and yelled at me.”
“They were trying to bully me,” said Michelini, who continued on his ride.
Jae Passmore, an activist who was injured in a June 21 protest in Hyde Park Village by a motorist who hit her while she was leading a moment of silence in the street, said there is a reason that protesters have marched in the affluent section of the city.
“The reason that we started protesting in that area specifically is that (South Tampa) residents are isolated in a bubble of privilege,” Passmore said. “It’s one thing to turn on your TV and watch Black people protest in other cities or in their own neighborhoods.”
“I would say all those sentiments that those residents are saying they feel is what it’s like to be Black in America every day,” she said.
When asked about the graffiti, Passmore cited a history of social justice movements being unfairly blamed for harassment or property damage.
“What I can say is there are people who are dedicated to painting a false narrative of the mission. We have one goal to fight for justice and liberation,” Passmore said.
She added that Columbus was a “rapist, racist and human trafficker.”
“There are no tears on my end that someone put graffiti on a statue when we can’t get justice for dead bodies in Tampa,” Passmore said.
The tenor of the recent protests have hurt the cause of the protesters among South Tampa residents who were initially supportive, said Michelini.
“I would say initially it was tolerant, a bunch of restaurants were handing out waters. But it’s taken on a whole new complexion. It’s confrontational. They’re trying to get someone to react,” he said.
At Christ the King Catholic Church, parishioners have spent recent days wondering if the protests are to blame for damage inflicted to the face of the towering, marble Christ the King statue that stands watch outside the South Tampa sanctuary at 821 S. Dale Mabry Highway. Office volunteers and church members say they noticed the dark marks bludgeoned across the statue’s face near the beginning of June, as demonstrations began to catch fire throughout the Tampa Bay region.
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The church has security cameras installed throughout the campus, but so far they’ve been unable to identify any potential vandals, the church office said Tuesday.
The physical tokens of civil unrest are harder to find in the heart of Tampa’s downtown, a spokesman for the Tampa Downtown Partnership said Tuesday afternoon.
Members of the partnership’s Clean Team first noticed an uptick in graffiti downtown after the coroanvirus forced school to close and students to spend their days studying at home. But after an initial spate of the kind of spring graffiti senior director of public programming and operations Shaun Drinkard calls the “juvenile, rookie-type stuff,” much of the low-level acts of vandalism seem to have died off, he said.
Council member Bill Carlson, who represents South Tampa, said he hasn’t heard complaints from residents about the protests, but he says some residents are confused about how to respond. He blames the Tampa Police Department’s communications for not providing answers.
“I know that people have called, concerned about what to do,” Carlson said. “But there’s no advice on what to do when protesters are coming through your neighborhood. The police department seems to be willing to go on social media and put cutesy hash tags to criticize protesters, which just exacerbates the problem,” Carlson said.
Carlson said he’s reached out to the police department without success so far to have them keep council members in the loop.
Police department spokeswoman Jamel Laneé declined to respond to Carlson’s comments.
Mayor Jane Castor didn’t respond to three requests for comment.
Hyde Park resident Rochelle Reback said not all South Tampa residents are disconcerted by the protests. Many have welcomed the activists, marched with them and put Black Lives Matter signs on their lawns.
“Plenty of residents have welcomed the protesters and their message too. Also, bear in mind that when the protests were confined to Belmont Heights and Curtis Hixon/Downtown, the protesters were attacked with tear gas and rubber bullets (or whatever “other things” Chief Dugan wants to call them). But, since they’ve moved the BLM protests to Hyde Park, the protesters have been safe from police violence (although not from automobile driver violence),” Reback wrote on a Tampa Bay Times Facebook page.
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Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
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.