TAMPA — What began as a fourth day of peaceful protests throughout the city ended after midnight with Tampa police forcefully dispersing the crowd and arresting 68 people.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and police Chief Brian Dugan held a news conference Wednesday afternoon to provide their account of the protests that started Tuesday and ended chaotically hours later.
They urged all protesters, even those gathering peacefully, to “just stay home.”
“I’ve asked before, Chief Dugan has asked before, and we’re asking again that everyone just stay home,” Castor said. “Let’s find ulterior ways to convey that grief and anger so that the individuals that are causing the problems can’t hide, so they can’t use those lawful protests as a cover for their criminal activity.”
Castor had declared a citywide curfew earlier this week, but did not extend it. Instead, she made a personal plea for residents to stay home, unlike the earlier pandemic-inspired “stay at home” directives issued at the state and local level. She spoke just as the governor lifted more state COVID-19 restrictions, allowing bars, movie theaters and concert halls in most of Florida to reopen.
“While we’re trying to get back up on our feet economically I’m having to consider if I should put a curfew back in place,” Castor said. “I don’t want a curfew in our community. Nobody does. We shouldn’t have to have that. We are better than that.”
Dugan said his officers spent nearly 10 hours on Tuesday and Wednesday protecting groups of protesters throughout the city, clearing the streets as hundreds marched from City Hall to the WTVT-Ch. 13 television station at 3213 W. Kennedy Blvd. and back — a trek of roughly eight miles.
“We worked with them in harmony and brought them back to downtown safely,” the police chief said. “As it went through the night, the protest numbers grew, and then at about 10:50 p.m. we had rocks that were thrown at police cars. At 11:15 p.m. we had bottles that were thrown at police officers.”
Different groups of protesters made three attempts to march onto Interstate 275, but Tampa police officers and Florida Highway Patrol troopers blocked their path, Dugan said. Police also kept protesters from crossing the Brorein Street Bridge.
On the bridge, Dugan said some people in the crowd began to climb on top of police vehicles.
“It became clear that some of the protesters wanted things to become violent," he said. “We gave an official dispersal order at 11:46 p.m. to the remaining crowd of approximately 300, an object was thrown at officers who then deployed deterrent sprays and smoke to disperse the remaining crowd.”
After three verbal warnings — at Franklin Manor, at the corner of E Brorein Street and S Ashley Drive, and at N Ashley Drive and W Kennedy Boulevard — the crowd continued moving through downtown. Then, about 10 minutes after the initial dispersal order was issued, protesters smashed the windshield of a police car at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square, the chief said, and police officers converged on the group.
Sixty-four protesters were taken into custody, police said, for refusing to leave the intersection of E Madison Street and N Morgan Street, about one block away from the Tampa Police Department’s downtown headquarters. They face charges of unlawful assembly. Four others face charges of resisting arrest without violence, police said.
According the police account, the protest began at about 4 p.m. when a group of about 200 people gathered at Tampa City Hall to demonstrate for roughly half an hour before marching towards the TV station.
There, they were joined by a second group that walked from Herman Massey Park and the group marched back into the heart of downtown Tampa, police assisting with traffic control.
Once downtown, members of the crowd walked to Franklin Manor at N Franklin and E Tyler Streets. The co-owner of the restaurant had been accused of posting violent comments on social media this week and announced earlier Tuesday he was leaving the ownership group.
The crowd converged with another group already outside of the business, swelling in size to approximately 500 people.
Two police vehicles were damaged. A windshield was smashed on one vehicle and a second was dented when a protester threw an object at it. One officer received a minor injury. There were no reported injuries to protesters.