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National Guard activated in Tampa for protest response

Currently, 400 guardsmen are deployed around the state to work with law enforcement for crowd control and public safety.

During a day of peaceful protests that turned violent, Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard on Saturday.

Spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré wrote in a tweet Sunday that 100 guardsmen are in Tampa while 150 are in Miramar and another 150 are stationed in Camp Blanding.

An entrance gate is secured as the National Guard assembles in the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor said the National Guard was activated as a “preventive move.”

“They will be stationed at different locations throughout the city that may possibly be targets of looters and agitators, and those will be high-value targets, information we have received that groups intend to respond to these locations and cause property damage or violence,” Castor said. “And so they will be utilized as preventive measures for that."

Florida National Guard spokeswoman Lt. Col. Caitlin Brown said the guard would be “going on mission" Sunday night from Raymond James Stadium to locations in the Tampa Bay area, but she could not speak on the specifics of times or places for the safety of the guard members in the operation.

Brown said Castor requested the guard through Florida’s Division of Emergency Management. She added that the situation is “rapidly developing," since she was even finding out new information in “real-time from social media and other people."

The National Guard assembles in the parking lot of Raymond James Stadium on Sunday in Tampa. [ DIRK SHADD | Times ]

The idea that the Guard is deployed during the worldwide coronavirus pandemic is not lost on Brown or the members, either.

“It’s something that we’re obviously very aware of because we’ve been so heavily involved in the COVID response throughout the state,” she said.

“These are soldiers who had been involved in COVID response so they’re very aware of, you know, proper social distancing and things like that, but when we’re talking about a situation like the one we’re in currently with the protests and riots, that’s an emergency, immediate-crisis situation, so we will do everything possible to protect our soldiers from the COVID threat while on mission, but this threat is somewhat more urgent and so they’re going to be responding as appropriate to that while keeping COVID in mind as much as they possibly can.”

Times staff writer Kavitha Surana contributed to this report. Contact Mari Faiello at Follow @faiello_mari.

Related: Live: Tampa enacts curfew; police use tear gas, rounds to break up protests