ST. PETERSBURG — The city’s increasingly tense protests boiled over Thursday night when there was an altercation on the St. Pete Pier rooftop between a diner and a protester.
The man told police that a protester’s bicycle hit his wife. When he objected, he said a protester punched him.
A protester organizer said the man hurled racial slurs at the protesters as they entered the restaurant, then swung on one of them. A protester swung back and punched him.
A Tampa Bay Times reporter observed police officers ordering protesters out of the Pier. A police spokeswoman said protesters “ran out.”
No arrests were made that night, but police said the diner required medical treatment and the incident is being investigated.
“We are still trying to sort through everything,” said St. Petersburg police spokeswoman Yolanda Fernandez.
The protests began at City Hall at about 8:15 pm. Protesters planned to take their march to the new St. Pete Pier for another night this week. The $92 million project has been a frequent protest target since it opened Monday.
The demonstrators appointed a seven-person “de-escalation team” in case things got ugly there. Protest leader Ace Jordan, 19, said Pier patrons tried to push protesters down the stairs during a previous visit.
They marched from City Hall and along Central Avenue, chanting “Black Lives Matter” and “no justice, no peace.” Once they arrived at the Pier, they presented their pre-reserved tickets to Pier employees and were swiftly ushered in.
They chanted and spoke to dozens of visitors lounging on the Pier lawn before heading up to the rooftop bar, Pier Teaki.
Some protesters who arrived on their skateboards, rollerblades and bikes took them up the stairs to the rooftop. They chanted as they entered the restaurant. Then the altercation took place at about 9:20 p.m.
Jordan said the diner hurled racial slurs at them as they passed his table. Then the diner swung at a protester who then punched the diner in the face, demonstrators said. They called it self-defense.
When a Times reporter arrived, the diner’s wife was cursing at the protesters as her husband appeared to be checking his face.
“My husband was protecting me,” she yelled. She announced they would press charges.
A protester told her it was an “accident,” and that her husband was struck because he tried to hit one of them.
The protester and woman yelled at each other for over a minute. Then the protester was restrained and pulled away by another protester as the woman continued cursing at him.
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Fernandez said the officers at the Pier relayed this account:
The protesters forced their way into the restaurant and ignored requests from management and security to leave.
The protesters took their bicycles with them into the restaurant, and the confrontation started when a patron said one of the bikes hit his wife.
The man spoke up about his wife being hit by the bicycle, police said, and then the punch was thrown.
Officers were still trying to piece together what happened, Fernandez said. There was no mention of racial slurs in the officers’ account.
Police are going through the Pier’s video surveillance system and cell phone videos taken at the scene, Fernandez said. She said the protesters left without speaking to police.
The protest quickly returned to City Hall and broke up for the night.
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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.