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Fire Tampa’s police chief, protesters demand; St. Pete protest ends after motorcycle incident

Demonstrators spent Independence Day blocking Tampa Bay traffic. In Tampa, protesters were freed from jail and one denies the allegations against him. In St. Petersburg, a motorcyclist threatened marchers.

UPDATE 1 a.m.

The Tampa Police Department gave this version of events during the N Dale Mabry Highway protest:

Police officials said the protest had grown from 40 to nearly 100 and had blocked traffic for nearly an hour. Then, after several warnings to disperse, officers moved in at 1:28 p.m. to arrest the “organizers and leaders of the protest.” The officers said objects were thrown at them, so more officers were sent to the area.

“While attempting to lawfully arrest one subject, officers were surrounded and a large group began to close in on the arresting officers and the officers who were working to provide security,” the department said. “Members of the group began pushing against bike officers, who deployed two short bursts of O.C. (pepper) spray to push the group back.”

Two vehicles were damaged during the incident, police said, but offered no other details.

But one of the arrested protesters disputed the allegations against him.

J’Khari Wilson, 21, faces a felony charge of criminal mischief resulting in damage of $1,000 or more and misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest without violence and violating city ordinance 14-41.

After he was freed from the county jail, he rejoined up his fellow protesters downtown and disputed the police version of events.

“There’s video evidence that shows that never, ever happening,” Wilson said early Sunday. “I got charged by the officer while I was backing up and fearing for my life. He pushed me into the car and video evidence shows that.”

Wilson said Tampa police have repeatedly arrested protesters without justification, pointing to the charges that were later dropped by the Hillsborough State Attorney’s Office. However, prosecutors have also charged dozens more in connection with the start of the protests in May.

Tampa police officers used pepper spray as they detained several protesters who were blocking N Dale Mabry Highway on Saturday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“They have just been lying to the public and the public has been believing it,” Wilson said. “And then you have (Mayor) Jane (Castor) who has been backing that up and explicitly said that she will not fire Chief (Brian) Dugan even though there is video evidence of officers tear-gassing, shooting rubber bullets and pepper-spraying completely peaceful protestors.”

Wilson said that he was not a leader of Saturday’s protest, but he was wearing a safety vest. He said he doesn’t know why officers chose him.

“I was arrested for no reason, absolutely no reason,” he said. “I don’t know why they targeted me. I’m not one of the leaders, I just had a vest. Nothing more.”

For more on the Dale Mabry protest, check this Twitter thread by Tampa Bay Times reporter Kathryn Varn:

• • •

UPDATE 12:30 a.m.

The group remained downtown and chanted until about midnight, when they learned that all of those arrested earlier Saturday while blocking N Dale Mabry Highway had been freed from jail.

Then they went home, ending the Fourth of July protests in Tampa Bay.

• • •

UPDATE 11:30 p.m.

The Tampa Police Department announced Saturday night that nine people were arrested for blocking traffic on N Dale Mabry Highway hours earlier.

Seven were taken into custody and two were given notices to appear in court. However, the Tampa Bay Times could not find one of them in jail records, so three may have been given notices to appear.

Three arrestees face charges of battering a law enforcement officer, and one of them faces a charge of carrying a concealed firearm.

Most face a misdemeanor charge of violating city ordinance 14-41 — obstructing the free flow of traffic.

One of them, 22-year-old Ahmed Osman, reunited with his fellow protesters downtown Saturday night.

The group celebrated his arrival. He was greeted with hugs.

“We turned the jail into a music video,” Osman said. “We had so much fun.”

A protester who was taken into custody earlier Saturday, 22-year-old Ahmed Osman, in the orange shirt, reunited with his fellow protesters that night. The group celebrated his arrival. “We turned the jail into a music video,” Osman said. “We had so much fun.” [ JOSH SOLOMON | Times ]
• • •

UPDATE 11 p.m.

The St. Petersburg protest has wrapped-up with a discussion circle and a poetry reading. The march has come to a peaceful end after the motorcycle incident just 30 minutes before.

• • •

UPDATE 10:30 p.m.

St. Petersburg demonstrators moved on from the Snell Isle Bridge. But there was a tense moment when a motorcycle drove through their ranks as they marched along Beach Drive NE.

Then a man and a woman got off the red motorcycle and got into a heated exchanged with the protesters.

The man threatened to assault the protesters, members told the Times, because they were blocking the road.

However, protest leaders kept the demonstration moving. The interruption last just under a minute.

• • •

UPDATE 10 p.m.

In Tampa, about 75 protesters lined up in front of police headquarters downtown and read a list of demands.

Chief among them: Fire Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan, and to release and drop the charges against all protesters who have been arrested during the demonstrations.

That includes those who were arrested earlier Saturday during the blockade of N Dale Mabry Highway. Police officials have not said how many were arrested or on what charges.

“And if we don’t get it?” chanted community activist Jae Passmore.

“Shut it down!” the crowd responded.

Passmore led the protest while on crutches. She was injured last month when a pick-up truck drove over a median and struck her while driving through demonstrators in Hyde Park Village on June 21.

The National Guard veteran was knocked to the ground and ended up with a concussion and an injured hip and right leg. Tampa police were investigating the incident, officials said at the time, but have released no other information about that inquiry.

Related: Pickup driver curses, slams into protest leader at Hyde Park Village demonstration

She addressed the media, and explained why protesters were spending their Independence Day continuing the protests that started 40 days ago when a Minneapolis police officer killed George Floyd on May 25. Here’s what she said:

“Being Black in America, what can I do for Independence Day? Being queer in America, what can I do for Independence Day? Being a woman in America, what can I do for Independence Day? Being a veteran with lackluster medical care, what can I do on Independence Day?

“The question is not what can we can do, because every day we have the same mission: To fight for justice, to fight for liberation, to dismantle systems of oppression.

“This might be a holiday for some, whose lives are joyous, who celebrate fireworks. But for us, we’re committed to justice. For us, we have friends who were protesting, who have been brutalized by the same police department that (we) have fought against for years.

“So don’t ask what we should be or could be doing for Independence day, ask why Mayor Jane Castor hasn’t fired her police chief already on this Independence Day. Liberate us.”

And the crowd cheered.

• • •

UPDATE 9:30 p.m.

There were fireworks shooting off all around the demonstrators blocking St. Petersburg’s Snell Isle Bridge.

But what does the Fourth of July mean to the protesters? Saturday’s demonstrations were named after Frederick Douglass’ famous speech “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”

The abolitionist and author delivered it on July 5, 1852 to decry the hypocrisy of America‘s Independence Day. An excerpt is below:

“What, to the American slave, is your Fourth of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy.”

To protester Giavanna Lofton, 19, it is a message that resonates 168 years later.

“It was never freedom for us!” he said. “We don’t have freedom even now.”

Two protests merged in St. Petersburg on Saturday night. The group, now more than 100 strong, marched along N Shore Drive NE, then turned onto Coffee Pot Boulevard NE. [ MARGO SNIPE | Times ]
Two protests merged in St. Petersburg on Saturday night. The group, now more than 100 strong, marched along N Shore Drive NE, then turned onto Coffee Pot Boulevard NE. [ MARGO SNIPE | Times ]
• • •

UPDATE 9 p.m.

For the second time Saturday, protesters have shut down a bridge. This time it’s the Snell Isle Bridge.

They waved their cell phone lights while playing Bill Withers’ timeless 1972 classic “Lean on Me.”

Withers died on March 30. He was 81.

• • •

UPDATE 8:30 p.m.

Two protest groups in St. Petersburg have met up at Beach Drive NE and Fourth Avenue NE and have energized each other.

The merged march has grown to more than 100 people.

When they spotted a Trump-Pence 2020 flag flying from a boat docked at the marina, the demonstration came to a halt.

“Anytime we see a Trump flag, that’s what we’ll do!” said organizer Terron Gland through his bullhorn.

• • •

UPDATE 7:30 p.m.

Break’s over. Protests are starting to resume across the bay area.

In St. Petersburg, protests have resumed in front of police headquarters, where a group of protesters have been focusing on in recent days.

The first to lead the chant is civil rights attorney Michele Rayner, who is running in the Democratic primary in Florida House District 70.

“Peaceful protest,” Rayner said.

“Peaceful protest,” the group responded.

Rayner said she’s been encourage to see more people supporting the movement than opposing it.

“This is an appropriate way to celebrate the Fourth of July,” she said. “It’s a reminder that there are still folks vying for freedom.”

• • •

UPDATE 4 p.m.

The Treasure Island Causeway blockade ended amicably — with a fist bump.

Treasure Island police officers spoke with protesters and denounced the death of George Floyd, who was killed on May 25 by a Minneapolis police officer, sparking a month of protests against police violence and racial injustice across the nation.

Protest leader Terron Gland shared a fist bump with a Treasure Island officer and ended the bridge blockade.

“Alright guys let’s go,” he said.

Related: Meet St. Pete’s accidental protest leader, who found he has something to say
Protest organizer Terron Gland, right, is hugged by a St. Petersburg police officer at the conclusion of a protest that blocked the Treasure Island Causeway. The protest ended peacefully. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]
Protesters block traffic on the Treasure Island Causeway on Saturday as cars line up waiting to get to the Pinellas beaches for the Fourth of July. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Gland then thanked the officers using his bullhorn, and criticized the St. Petersburg Police Department.

“Thank you for understanding us,” he said. “Thank you for talking to us, because we live in St. Pete, and they don’t open their mouths to us.

“They don’t come in solidarity with us. They don’t tell us the words that you officers told us. They don’t shake our hands. They don’t say yes, they don’t say they understand, but you guys have and we thank you.”

The demonstrators then started hugging and packed up to leave.

Gland and a St. Petersburg officer hugged, too.

• • •

UPDATE 3:30 p.m.

Protest leader Terron Gland led protesters in chanting on top of the Treasure Island Causeway.

“If we don’t get no justice,” he chanted through a bullhorn.

“You don’t get no beach,” they responded.

Protesters block traffic on the Treasure Island Causeway on Saturday as cars line up waiting to get to the Pinellas beaches for the Fourth of July. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT | Times ]

Meanwhile police cards approached on both sides of the bridge.

Treasure Island police asked the protesters to stop blocking the bridge. The response was more chanting.

The demonstrators stopped traffic just west of the bridge’s crest, which means the drawbridge could not be raised if a tall boat approached. None did so, however.

Police decided not to break-up the protest. Instead, they started turning drivers around.

Gland told his fellow protesters not to worry about the officers, that the protest would continue.

• • •

UPDATE 3 p.m.

It’s the Fourth of July in Tampa Bay. That means thousands heading to the Pinellas beaches, even in these pandemic times.

So if protesters want to make a point, the Treasure Island Causeway would be the best — or depending on one’s perspective, the worst — place to do so.

That’s exactly what the St. Pete protest movement did Saturday afternoon. They caravanned to Treasure Island and blocked the crest of the bridge.

By 3 p.m., traffic quickly backed up on both sides of the causeway.

• • •

UPDATE 2:30 p.m.

Saturday afternoon’s usual march from St. Petersburg City Hall instead moved to the Gulfport Recreation Center at 5730 Shore Blvd S. About three dozen marches through Gulfport’s streets with a caravan of about eight vehicles and assorted bicyclists, skateboarders and a motorcycle.

They chanted with back-up from a tambourine and several drums. Cars honked in support.

People came out of their homes to clap and raise their fists in support.

The protesters say they’re going to attempt something they haven’t yet done in the past month of nonstop protesting: Block the Treasure Island Causeway leading to Treasure Island, Gulf Boulevard and the Pinellas beaches.

• • •

UPDATE 2 p.m.

Protesters and police clashed in Tampa early Saturday afternoon after marchers blocked part of N Dale Mabry Highway and many of them refused to leave after police ordered them to disburse.

A recorded message played from a law enforcement vehicle ordered protesters out of the roadway under threat of arrest.

Police briefly left the scene then returned, accompanied by officers on bicycles. After face to face confrontations, police swarmed individual protesters and deployed a chemical irritant that had protesters pouring water into their eyes. It appeared a small number of protesters were arrested.

Tampa police used pepper spray as they moved in to detain protesters who were blocking N Dale Mabry Highway on Saturday. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]
• • •

UPDATE 12:30 p.m.

Protesters unfurled a banner across N Dale Mabry Highway Saturday, blocking traffic to the consternation of some motorists on the busy roadway. [ KATHRYN VARN ]

Things have quickly gotten interesting at another location in Tampa.

Protesters gathers shortly before noon outside the Walmart on N Dale Mabry Highway, about 80 strong. Then they began marching, with plans to block traffic.

It didn’t take long. The group among the protestors unfurled a banner across Dale Mabry blocking traffic. “Defund Police it read.

Some cars drove up on the sidewalk to get around the blockade.

• • •

UPDATE 11:55 a.m.

Protesters outside the home of St. Petersburg home of Mayor Rick Kriseman are taking turns ringing the doorbell to see if he will talk with them. So far no one has answered the door.

Those gathered have erected a tailgaiting style tent in front of the house.

• • •

UPDATE 11:20 a.m.

Back in St. Petersburg, protesters were attempting to lure Mayor Rick Kriseman from his home shortly before the lunch hour.

Spencer “Thirteen” Cook, 44, says this is the first of many times protesters will come to the mayor’s house.

“We are occupying his neighborhood the same way our neighborhoods are occupied,” Cook says. “The same way we are uncomfortable, they need to be uncomfortable.

“The ship is sinking and everyone should be uncomfortable.”

Some speakers are calling on the mayor to come outside and engage with them. One claims to have seen the mayor peeking from a window.

“I think you need to come outside and be a mayor,” said Will Breeze, a regular leader of the St. Petersburg marches that have taken place since the death of George Floyd at the hands of police in May. “That’s what a leader would do, whether it’s what we want to hear or what we don’t wanna hear.”

It was unclear if the mayor was home, though one protester pointed out what appeared to be a city vehicle parked outside.

A man passes through the crowd outside Mayor Rick Kriseman's house in the Pasadena Estates area. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT ]

Not everyone was happy about the protesters’ presence.

• • •

UPDATE 11 a.m.

TAMPA — Across the bay, nearly two dozen people gathered outside the Tampa Convention Center in preparation to march.

Yourhighness Tafari, 43, said he organized the protest to see who’s who.

“If you’re with us like you say you with us, come out here and make a statement,” said Tafari, who is Black and co-owns a catering business, Vegg’d Out Vegan Kitchen. “This holiday represents freedom. But we’ve never felt free.”

As they set off for Davis Islands, the crowd grew to nearly 50, largely staying on the sidewalk after Tampa police stopped by to ask them not to block the road.

ST. PETERSBURG — Independence Day promised another day of Tampa Bay area residents exercising their First Amendment rights.

Protesters in St. Petersburg took their campaign against police violence west Saturday morning, parking outside the home of Mayor Rick Kriseman.

About 20 people gathered outside the home in the Pasadena Estates area waving signs and playing music. It was a peaceful assembly.

Tim Carty, 29, sits on the curb outside the home of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman Saturday morning. [ JOHN PENDYGRAFT ]

• • •

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.