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Tampa enacts curfew, uses tear gas on protesters; National Guard activated

After a night of chaos and violence, protests resumed on Sunday and tensions again grew between demonstraters and Tampa police.

For updates from Sunday evening’s protests, go here.

TAMPA — Hundreds of protesters marched in East Tampa and St. Petersburg on Sunday afternoon, joining in nationwide protests against the toll of police violence on African Americans.

But in Tampa, officials geared up to prevent a repeat of Saturday night’s chaos and destruction.

Mayor Jane Castor instituted a curfew for her city, from 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m.. Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard, which mobilized late Sunday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium.

“Physical violence and looting are not the answer," Castor said during a 5:30 p.m. Facebook Live address on Sunday. "They are simply criminal behavior, behavior that solves nothing.”

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

As police officers fired tear gas and non-lethal rounds into a crowd of protesters near Memorial Park Cemetery at Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard E and 22nd Street N, Tampa police Chief Brian Dugan warned that his officers would not allow a repeat of the previous night’s violence.

"If you are a peaceful protester, I suggest you stay home because there are people who do not want to peacefully protest,” the chief said. “They want to take over your voice and they want to take over your words and that is not going to be tolerated.

“We took a hard stance last night and I think we’re going to take an even harder stance tonight. We’ll be flexible. But we’ll be out there and we have some plans.”

Related: In Tampa, life carries on among the ashes

Dugan’s warning came as an enormous group of protesters hundreds strong moved through downtown Tampa, attempting to access and block Interstate 275, before police stopped them with spray and non-lethal bullets. At one point, the demonstrators kneeled, shouting, “Don’t shoot!” When police fired again, the crowd scurried away, many to Curtis Hixon Park.

It all made for an intense Sunday in the bay area, as outrage continued across the nation in response to the death of George Floyd last week, after a Minneapolis police officer was recorded kneeling on his neck for nearly nine minutes. That officer was charged with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter Friday.

Related: Tampa enacts citywide curfew that begins at 7:30 p.m. Sunday

Castor and Dugan said they took part in Saturday afternoon’s marches. Both said they condemn police brutality and share in the outrage over Floyd’s death. But that evening, Castor said, something changed, as people started throwing “fireworks, glass bottles and rocks,” Castor said.

Officers arrested 41 people. About 40 businesses were damaged and looted; five were set on fire and more damage may be reported. Twenty-seven police vehicles were damaged, mostly shattered windows and punctured tires. One Tampa officer suffered minor burns when a mortar was thrown at police.

“When the violence began and the arrests started to be made I was certain — I was certain — those individuals were from outside the city,” Castor said. “The story this morning was they were not.

“What I saw last night was not a call for voices to be heard, for ideas to effect change or ways to shine a light on inequality. What I saw was shameful. What I saw was also heartbreaking for our community. And what I saw did not reflect our community and the values we all share.”

Related: Their Mobil station was set on fire: 'We have no anger, really'

In anticipation of more of the chaos that lit up Tampa Saturday night, several malls and big-box stores closed early or never opened, and businesses in Ybor City boarded entrances and windows.

After an afternoon protest march stalled at MLK Boulevard E and 22nd Avenue N, a group of Tampa police in riot gear arrived and started firing tear gas and what appeared to be bean bag rounds into the crowd. A recorded police announcement declared it an “unlawful assembly."

Marchers scrambled into an adjacent cemetery, then returned to confront police, taunting them, with one saying: “Are the multiple deaths of black men funny to you?”

Protester Marissa Holloman, 31, said she saw a man in civilian clothing, standing near some officers, unzip his jacket and display a badge. Later, she said she saw that man throw a water bottle into the crowd.

“When everybody rushed, that’s when they started with the tear gas,” she said. "These are the same places my grandma had to do bus boycotts. Thirty-one years later, I’m here doing the same thing. It’s got to stop.”

Related: Photos: Protests continue Sunday in Tampa

Earlier in the day, organizers on both sides of the bay had worked to keep things calm.

Black Lives Matter Tampa and 12 other Florida-based civil rights organizations were involved in planning the East Tampa rally, and they brought dozens of trained legal observers, “safety marshals” and a team of mobile medics on the scene to help with crowd control.

“We don’t condone any lawlessness.” the group said in a statement.

Related: Tampa mayor, police chief after protests: Stay home

People began gathering before noon Sunday in Cyrus Greene Park, where clergy members prayed for change and a peaceful day. Organizers encouraged people to register to vote and handed out water bottles and snacks to help people cope with 90-degree weather. Some marchers stopped to fan themselves and others with their signs. Paramedics took one person away on a stretcher who collapsed from the heat.

A demonstrator is attended to after collapsing while marching Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Tampa. For a second day in a row protestors took to the streets of Tampa to protest the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
A demonstrator is attended to after collapsing while marching Sunday, May 31, 2020 in Tampa. For a second day in a row protestors took to the streets of Tampa to protest the Memorial Day death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. [ MARTHA ASENCIO-RHINE | Times ]

The organizers also issued a warning to white people in the crowd: If they were here from out of town and looking to cause trouble, they were in the wrong place.

“This is a rebellion against this injustice we’ve been plagued with for 438 years,” said Jarvis El-Amin, vice chair of Masjid An-Nasr mosque in Tampa. “We want equality, love and fairness.”

Johnny Johnson, a protester, moved among crowds reminding people to stay calm and to remember that the day was about uniting and making their voices heard.

When asked about the mayhem Saturday night, in which at least 40 businesses in Hillsborough County were burglarized and looted and five were set on fire, he said: “They can rebuild that, but we can’t bring back lives.”

Many people were wearing masks at the rally, but it was hard to keep a 6-foot social distance.

At about 1:45 p.m., people began to march south down N 21st Street chanting, “Hands up, don’t shoot!” By 3 p.m., along N 15th St., chants had turned to “No justice, no peace!” and “F--k the police!” By 4:15, they had shut down the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and N 22nd Street, chanting, “No justice, no peace, no racist police!” Police with shields and riot gear marched to meet them.

During the march, “safety marshals” dressed in orange and yellow vests helped direct people where to go.

“You marched here for solidarity work in the black community, which means that if you’re here, you’re not centering your feelings on you," marshal M. Jose Chapa shouted through a megaphone in Rainbow Heights. "It is a hot day. Please stay hydrated. But if anybody needs help, look to us, and we’re there. We are trained in de-escalation tactics.”

In St. Petersburg, dozens of demonstrators gathered at police headquarters downtown and marched against traffic on First Avenue N, kneeling for a beat at each intersection. The march looped past City Hall and headed south on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. St. S.

“Another black man has been murdered, and we’re tired of it,” said Aaliyah Wilcox, 27, of St. Petersburg.

"I got black sons growing up,” said Turquoise McClendon, 28, of St. Petersburg. “I’m tired of having to explain to them why we can’t do the things other people do.”

While most cars stopped each time the marchers kneeled — some even cheering their support — one driver didn’t heed, inching closer and closer until protesters moved. No one was injured.

When they returned to police headquarters, about two dozen officers in helmets and face shields poured out of the station in formation — an increase in security measures from Saturday. As protesters walked onto the landing at the entrance, police briefly retreated before moving them back toward the street. retreated toward the building

“We saw what’s happening around the Tampa Bay area,” assistant chief Antonio Gilliam said. “We want to maintain peace in St. Pete.”

This is a developing story. Stay with tampabay.com for updates.

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