ST. PETERSBURG — Three people were arrested early Tuesday amid the ongoing protests after police say were carrying materials to make an explosive device known as a Molotov cocktail in an SUV.
A Tampa Bay protest organizer emphasized the allegations against those three violates the spirit of the civil disobedience tactics that peaceful demonstrators have been using nationwide.
“The point of our protest isn’t to start a war. The point is to be heard," said Emadi Okwuosa, 22, who has helped organize protests in Tampa.
St. Petersburg officers at about 12:16 a.m. found a container of gasoline, bricks and “materials used to assemble crude incendiary devices commonly known as a ‘Molotov cocktail’” inside a red Mitsubishi Outlander parked on Central Avenue, near the police department at 1301 First Ave. N, according to arrest reports.
Officers arrested three people inside the SUV. Arrest reports indicate there may be one or more co-defendants but they were not named.
The arrests came after several days of peaceful protests against police brutality following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody. An officer shown in a bystander video kneeling for more than 8 minutes on Floyd’s neck was arrested on a murder charge last week. The other three officers involved in Floyd’s arrest have not been charged.
Downtown St. Petersburg has seen its own share of unrest, with groups of demonstrators marching between City Hall and the police department, trailed by cars honking and playing music. Police set up concrete barriers in front of its headquarters Monday, blocking traffic from approaching the building.
As the demonstrations continued Monday night, a man told an undercover officer about the red SUV, according to the arrest reports. The man — who is identified in the arrest reports as a “co-defendant" but wasn’t named — told the officer he had “bricks and cocktails,” then pointed to the vehicle.
Uniformed officers approached the car. Inside were Javonta McCloud, 28, of St. Petersburg; Edwin Bryant, 28, of St. Petersburg; and Lady Nash, 29, of Largo, police said. All three were arrested on felony charges of inciting a riot. Nash, who was the driver of the SUV, told police she was aware the materials were in the car, and that an unnamed co-defendant intended to “hurt the police,” according to her arrest report.
The trio was arrested at about 12:15 a.m. Tuesday. Meanwhile protesters marched toward the police station, and the cars trailing them somehow got around the barriers. That, combined with the earlier discovery in the SUV, prompted officers to declare the gathering an “unlawful assembly."
Minutes later, officers tossed smoke grenades outside police headquarters, breaking up the gathering. Soon police vehicles and officers in helmets and shields fanned out and dispersed the remaining protesters.
McCloud, Bryant and Nash were booked into the Pinellas County jail early Tuesday. Nash and Bryant remained in custody Tuesday afternoon, held in lieu of $5,000 bail. McCloud was released after posting bail.
Okwuosa said he and the majority of demonstrators protesting against police violence do not condone attacking law enforcement. However, he said he empathizes with those who feel that violence is the only way to be heard after years of inaction.
One of the purposes of the protests, he said, is to remain peaceful to highlight the moments when police do respond with force.
“I just want people to know that it’s not the protesters changing their tactics," he said. “It’s the government changing its response.”