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Man pulls gun on St. Petersburg protesters during live broadcast

Counter-protesters shadow and confront demonstrators as they march through a crowded downtown.
A man appears to aim a handgun at protesters during a confrontation in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday night.
A man appears to aim a handgun at protesters during a confrontation in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday night. [ Twitter ]
Published Sep. 27, 2020
Updated Sep. 27, 2020

ST. PETERSBURG — A man aimed a pistol at protesters as they marched through downtown Saturday night in an incident broadcast on Facebook Live.

There were a series of confrontations downtown between the St. Pete Protest movement and small groups of counter-protesters and other individuals shadowing and yelling at the demonstrators at several points through the night.

A St. Petersburg police spokeswoman told the Tampa Bay Times that officers saw the gun incident on social media and are gathering information.

The tense situation unfolded while downtown was packed with people crowding into bars and restaurants the day after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted all remaining statewide coronavirus restrictions — allowing bars and restaurants to return to normal capacity. The governor made the announcement Friday in St. Petersburg.

It may have been downtown’s busiest night since the COVID-19 pandemic started in March. Florida reported 2,795 coronavirus cases that day, raising its total infections to 698,682.

There were also 107 coronavirus deaths announced, including a 12-year-old Duval County girl — the ninth child to die of COVID-19 in the state. The virus has caused 14,190 deaths in the state.

Tensions rose earlier this week when demonstrators and diners got into a heated exchange Wednesday night as they marched by Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive NE. A photograph that surfaced on social media showed a couple dining at the restaurant give the protesters a thumbs down and the middle finger. A video recorded by a Times reporter after that showed a subsequent encounter in which a protester sat at the couple’s table and harsh words were exchanged.

The St. Pete Protest movement returned to downtown on Saturday. They have regularly protested against police violence and racial injustice for nearly four months. Now they were also demonstrating against the governor’s recently proposed legislation to impose harsh penalties on protesters and strip state funding from cities that “defund the police.”

But on this night, several individuals and a small group of counter-protesters waving American flags, a yellow “Don’t Tread on Me” flag and other flags repeatedly sought them out.

In one incident, a woman was injured and seen lying in the street on video. Protesters say she was assaulted by the counter-protesters.

In another incident broadcast live, the flag-waving group advances on the protesters and a cameraman, surrounding him and forcing him backwards with their flags.

Yelling could be heard outside the camera’s view. When the camera whirls around, a counter-protester can be seen pulling out a semi-automatic pistol, racking the slide and aiming it at the marchers while walking in the street.

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The video doesn’t show what happened on the street beforehand. A video clip of the incident from the Facebook Live broadcast was posted to Twitter.

Pulling back the slide loads the first round into the chamber of a semiautomatic pistol — assuming the magazine is loaded.

Individuals again sought out the marchers at the St. Pete Pier, yelled at them and appeared to be trying to initiate a confrontation.

A police spokeswoman said there were additional officers near the pier, and in one video officers can be seen separating the groups. No officers were seen in the video of the gun incident.

The demonstrators continued their protest through the evening, sitting at the St. Pete Pier, chanting in memory of Breonna Taylor, then returning to the steps of City Hall and disbanding about 10:30 p.m.

The counter-protesters left downtown, a police spokeswoman told the Times.

Related: ‘We won’t stop.’ Tampa vigil honors Breonna Taylor, vows to continue protests