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Protests continue in Hillsborough over shooting of unarmed black man

CLAIR-MEL — For six days they've sat at the convenience store where he worked, sometimes blocking the streets, sometimes lighting candles in remembrance and sometimes just waiting for their next chance to act.

A rotating cast of protesters, angry about a Hillsborough County sheriff's deputy's fatal shooting of unarmed black man Levonia Riggins, has been a constant presence in the Clair-Mel neighborhood where he lived since the Tuesday he was killed. On Monday, they took their demonstrations a step further.

Around noon, about 30 people gathered at the Tampa Family Health Center near the intersection of Causeway Boulevard and S 78th Street and marched a mile to the Get N Go food mart where Riggins, 22, worked. There, at 78th Street and Rideout Road, they stood their ground, prompting police to shut down a section of roadway until about 3 p.m.

They held signs portraying a range of emotions, from "Rest in Peace" to "Jail Killer Cops." With a long line of cars behind them, the protesters chanted: "Cops in my hood ain't no good" and "What do we want? Justice. When do we want it? Now."

"My brother was killed in his sleep and we're all out here to make sure the officer goes to jail," said Carniellius Branton, Riggins' older brother.

"We're destroyed," Branton said.

A tactical team descended on Riggins' home after authorities say he sold drugs to an undercover deputy. The officer, Deputy Caleb Johnson, shot through a bedroom window because he feared Riggins was reaching for a gun when he moved his hands to his waistband, officials have said. Johnson, who is white, is now on paid administrative leave, standard procedure after law enforcement-involved shootings.

Monday's protest drew a number of community activists, among them head of the Tampa chapter of the New Black Panther Party, Clarence Jones. A handful of protesters gathered outside the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office in Ybor City before heading to the Get N Go.

Protester Andrew Joseph's 14-year-old son was killed while crossing Interstate 4 after being ejected from the Florida State Fair by sheriff's deputies. That was two years ago, yet Joseph said he's still waging an ever-growing battle for justice for Hillsborough's black community.

"We've been fighting this fight and making baby steps when we should be making giant steps," Joseph said. "We have not seen change in this community. The police don't look like us and the trust is gone."

The protesters said they will continue to demonstrate until the family receives satisfactory answers from HCSO as to what happened and Johnson is put behind bars.

"All this shows that my brother really was loved, by his family and the community," Branton said.

Contact Anastasia Dawson at adawson@tampabay.com or (813) 226-3377. Follow @adawsonwrites.

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