Advertisement
  1. News
  2. /
  3. Breaking News

Hundreds demonstrate across Tampa Bay over George Floyd killing

Most protests wound down after several hours. But this evening, hundreds of people from the Temple Terrace protest were still gathered near the District 2 Tampa Police Station, close to Busch Gardens.
Published May 30, 2020
Updated May 31, 2020

Editor’s note: The scene Sunday morning was quiet, but more demonstrations are planned. Keep up with Tampa Bay Times coverage.

Hundreds of people gathered Saturday at three separate demonstrations across Tampa Bay, protesting the killing of a Minneapolis man at the hands of police officers last week.

Demonstrations in downtown Tampa, downtown St. Petersburg and Temple Terrace each drew hundreds of people.

They were following other protests from across the country, some of which have turned violent. But the demonstrations in Tampa Bay so far today have been largely peaceful, though punctuated by tense and angry moments.

Related: Fire, looting and violence reported as Tampa protests escalate

In downtown Tampa, demonstrators chanted obscenities toward the police. In Temple Terrace, they shut down a major roadway and threw water bottles at a police officer’s car.

Most of the protests wound down after several hours. But this evening, hundreds of people from the Temple Terrace protest were still gathered near the District 2 Tampa Police Station, close to Busch Gardens.

Protesters were throwing loud fireworks at the ground and bottles of liquid at officers. Police officers holding riot shields had arrived. Passing motorists’ car windows were broken, as well as they windows at a nearby convenience store. Protesters said at one point officers had fired rubber bullets into the crowd.

In other parts of the state, there were reports of violence. A car drove through a crowd of protesters in Tallahassee, according the Associated Press. In Gainesville, a man was arrested for driving through a crowd of demonstrators, then pulling a gun on people in the crowd, according to the Gainesville Sun.

Temple Terrace

Just before 2 p.m., a crowd began to gather at the intersection of 56th Street and Fowler Avenue for a protest organized by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society.

Early on, two Temple Terrace officers said they were not allowed to speak with media or give their names. But one volunteered: “The only thing we will say is we support the cause.”

Protesters block traffic on 56th st. in front of Temple Terrace City Hall on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa.
Protesters block traffic on 56th st. in front of Temple Terrace City Hall on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

The crowd quickly reached into the hundreds of people. Over the next several hours, they winded their way across the city — congregating in front of Temple Terrace City Hall and a Tampa Police station, blocking major roadways and having tense moments with police.

By 3:10, the protesters were walking down Fowler Avenue, a major artery through Temple Terrace and North Tampa. Police vehicles began to congregate and Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies, using loudspeakers, told the crowd to stop blocking traffic. About 3:30, some members of the crowd swarmed a white sedan being driven by a uniformed law enforcement officer. The car flashed its lights and slowly pulled away as the crowd pelted it with water bottles. No one was hurt.

Protesters jump on the back of a pickup truck in the intersection of 56th st and Fowler ave.  on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa.
Protesters jump on the back of a pickup truck in the intersection of 56th st and Fowler ave. on Saturday, May 30, 2020 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Times ]

Tensions cooled, and officers began directing traffic around the crowd.

Some public officials showed up. City Council member Luis Viera was in attendance, and he said both Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan attended.

Kathy Wright, 68, said her faith brought her out. “This is an abomination,” she said.

72-year old Yejide Olabayo said she was encouraged to see so many young people out. She heard about the protest from her granddaughter. “I have a black son and black grandchildren," Olabayo said. ”I’m sick of seeing this happen again and again. I’ve been crying for days.”

As of 7 p.m., the number of people had dropped. But more than 100 people were still gathered near the Tampa police station. Demonstrators were chiding each other for setting off fireworks. And police officers holding shields had shown up.

Downtown St. Petersburg

In St. Petersburg, a crowd of hundreds marched from City Hall to police headquarters Saturday afternoon, where they rallied peacefully for three hours, chanting George Floyd’s name and asking people to stay committed to fighting racial injustice even after they leave.

The speakers were of all different colors. Some cursed the police, but more led chants of “No Justice, no peace,” and implored white attendees to recognize “the privilege” of their skin color.

The rally started at 2 p.m. at City Hall, where Uhuru activist and former St. Petersburg City Council candidate Eritha “Akile” Cainion led the crowd through a series of chants.

“Fist up, fight back!,“ she yelled into a megaphone from the steps of City Hall, in a call and response with the crowd. “Jail the killer cops now!”

The crowd filled the road in front of City Hall and spilled into the sculpture park across the street. Motorists honked in support as they drove by.

Jasmine Hatchett, 21, of St. Petersburg, attended the rally with her boyfriend. She said she hoped that “they hear us.”

“How much more protesting can we do? How much more Tweeting can we do?” she said. “We just want to be heard. We want things to change.”

By 3 p.m., the crowd migrated south on Fifth Street then west on First Avenue N toward toward the St. Petersburg police headquarters eight blocks away.

There was no visible police presence at City Hall. Officers helped block traffic for the crowd at Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Street, and tailed the demonstrators to prevent cars from overtaking them. At the station, a few officers milled in a parking lot nearby, while cruisers blocked traffic on First Avenue N a block away.

The rallying picked back up at the police station, first by organizers who led the crowd through an eight-minute moment of silence to recognize the length of time Floyd was pinned down by the officer in Minneapolis. People lay and sat on the hot asphalt, a single drum beat sounding every minute.

“Say his name,” an organizer yelled into a bullhorn. “George Floyd,” the crowd answered back.

Later, the megaphone was offered to anyone who wanted to speak. The crowd cheering to support every new voice who stepped up. Among the speakers was a 15-year-old student.

“Children like me lose their lives every day,” the student said. “I’m tired of people focusing on school shooters while our lives are being lost every day to cops. I’m at a loss for words, but I’m tired of seeing black lives lost to these terrible people — these animals.”

Others felt the same way.

A white woman told the crowd she knew she was privileged. She had a message to the other white people who were listening: Speak up, don’t be silent.

A chant broke out for nearly a minute: “Silence is compliance. Silence is compliance…”

By 5:30 p.m., the crowd had significantly thinned. But dozens of people remained, talking into the bullhorn and leading chants.

Downtown Tampa

Hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside the Tampa Police headquarters Saturday and then marched through downtown Tampa.

The Tampa group held handmade signs, chanting “I can’t breathe" and “f--k the police.” The gathering, angry but peaceful, started in front of Tampa Police headquarters, with a line of officers in bicycle helmets blocking the front entrance of the building.

The group then began marching through downtown intersections, with police officers riding on bicycles to block off intersections as it passed.

By about 12:30, the crowd had crossed downtown, reaching the Hillsborough County Courthouse. But the group’s size had fallen to several dozen, down from hundreds at its peak. It was hot, with temperatures reaching 90 degrees. By 2 p.m., the crowd had dispersed.

A tense moment between demonstrators and police played out at the corner of Madison Street and Florida Avenue. Police had blocked off the intersection to traffic ahead of the advancing gathering. Medjine Abellard, 20, who is black and one of the organizers of the demonstration, approached an officer and yelled at him through a megaphone, “Are you going to kill me, too?”

"You would never step to me in public without that badge,” she yelled at police later. “And you, even if you’re a black cop, as soon as your badge is off they’d kill you too. They do not care about you or any of us.”

Medjine Abellard, 21, yells at a police officer in the intersection of Madison and Florida Avenue in Downtown Tampa.
Medjine Abellard, 21, yells at a police officer in the intersection of Madison and Florida Avenue in Downtown Tampa. [ Maylin Rodriguez ]

Many of the demonstrators in Tampa declined to comment. One of the organizers, holding a megaphone, instructed the crowd: “Do not talk to the f--king press. These police will come and find you after and kill you.” He also told protesters to hide their face from cameras.

People of all races made up the march, but the majority were African American. Some said they felt compelled to march on Saturday because people in their family had experienced police brutality first hand in Tampa Bay.

“Seeing how that cop was on his neck for nearly 10 minutes disgusted me,” said Jamie Bullock, 21, a Tampa native and student at Hillsborough Community College. “But this is for my family who have experienced police brutality, too. This is for all of us.”

Bullock came with her friends to the protest, which she viewed as successful.

Nandi McMillan, left, Jamie Bullock, center, and Evan Lawson, right, were a part of Saturday's protest in Downtown Tampa.
Nandi McMillan, left, Jamie Bullock, center, and Evan Lawson, right, were a part of Saturday's protest in Downtown Tampa. [ Josh Fiallo ]

“We got a couple of news crews out here and people seeing us,” she said. “That’s what matters. Getting the message out.”

While protesters moved from street to street, cars driving by would shout and honk in support. In Ybor City, Black Radish Grocer, a vegan grocer, assembled grab bags of drinks and snacks to offer for free to any protesters.

“It’s the least we can do for the people on the front lines protesting injustice,” general manager Patrick Brady said. “As a business, it’s our responsibility to reinvest in our community.”

Later Saturday, International Plaza closed early, “due to the protests, out of an abundance of caution,” said a spokeswoman for the mall. Police and security were posted at each entrance. The mall’s outdoor restaurants remained open.

Around the state

A car drove through a crowd of protesters in Tallahassee today, according to social media posts. News reports do not indicate if the driver was arrested or not.

In Gainesville, a reporter tweeted that a man drove through a crowd of demonstrators in a silver car shooting at people in the crowd. News reports indicated that nobody was injured but the man was arrested and charged with aggravated assault.

Protests happened throughout Miami, from its downtown to its suburbs, and remained peaceful as of 5 p.m. Saturday afternoon. Among the roads to temporarily close down was Biscayne Boulevard.

There were also protests in Jacksonville, where hundreds took to the city’s streets. There were no major crimes reported, just peaceful protests, as of 5 p.m.

The same went for Orlando, where protests were large but peaceful.

Why are people demonstrating?

George Floyd, 46, died Monday after a Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. Floyd gasped for breath and pleaded with the officer, Derek Chauvin, before becoming unresponsive. Floyd was soon pronounced dead at a local hospital.

The four officers on the scene were promptly fired, and on Friday Chauvin was charged with third-degree murder. The arrest did little to quell protesters who took to streets in cities across the country, sometimes clashing violently with police.

In other parts of the country, protests have turned violent. A protest in Minneapolis that started Thursday night into the early hours Friday overran a police station, setting the building ablaze. Last night in Atlanta, what started as a peaceful gathering turned darker by nightfall when protesters smashed windows at CNN’s headquarters and set ablaze a visitors center at Centennial Olympic Park.

Times staff writer Diana Nearhos and Times photojournalist Luis Santana contributed to this report.