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Black Lives Matter activists criticize arrests, renew calls for Tampa police chief’s firing

The activists vowed to continue protesting and said the Tampa Police Department is favoring pro-police demonstrators as tensions mount.

TAMPA — Activist Jae Passmore and fellow protesters held a downtown news conference Friday morning where they criticized the recent arrests of demonstrators, complained that pro-police demonstrators are being treated favorably and renewed their demands for a change at the very top of the Tampa Police Department.

Passmore was one of those arrested. Officers on Wednesday night took her to the ground to arrest her on misdemeanor charges of battery and resisting arrest without violence. The incident came two months after Passmore was hospitalized after being struck by a pickup truck driver who drove through a protest in Hyde Park. No arrest has been made in that case.

Related: Arrest of prominent Tampa activist prompts criticism of Tampa police

Tensions in Tampa have been on the rise in recent days between those calling for police reform, those backing the police and the police department itself. Passmore said Tampa’s Black Lives Matter movement, which has been protesting for nearly three months now since George Floyd was killed by a Minneapolis police officer on May 25, won’t slow down.

Instead, she and her fellow activists stood in Lykes Gaslight Park and vowed to continue to demonstrate and call for the removal of Police Chief Brian Dugan.

“We will be out in the streets and we will let everyone know that we will not stop,” said Passmore as 30 protesters stood behind her. “We demand that Police Chief Dugan be fired ... We are going to be out here and we are going to be stronger.”

The Tampa Police Department declined to comment on the protesters’ remarks Friday.

Activist Jae Passmore addresses her recent arrest during a press conference at Lykes Gaslight Square Park in Tampa on Friday, August 14, 2020. "We know what we have to do," Passmore said in her closing remarks. "We will be in the streets, we will be in the voting booths collecting petitions, but this city will change by choice or by force." [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

Passmore’s arrest was the latest in a recent series of flare-ups that started Aug. 1. Back the Blue Florida, a pro-police online community, painted a “Back the Blue” mural on E Madison Street outside Tampa Police Department headquarters — but without obtaining the proper permitting. They were still talking to the city when the group acted.

Then on Aug. 5, three protesters were arrested on charges that they defaced the “Back the Blue” mural. Protesters decided to try to paint their own mural in Curtis Hixon Waterfront Park on Aug. 8, to see how police would react. Tampa officers arrested seven of them, and three complained that they were beaten and mistreated at the county jail by Hillsborough sheriff’s deputies.

That led to Friday’s news conference. Activists took turns speaking, many wearing “Dump Dugan” pandemic masks, and said there has been a stark difference between the way Tampa officers have treated the Black Lives Matter movement vs. Back the Blue demonstrators — none of whom have been arrested.

Related: Arrested Tampa muralists say jail deputies abused them

Passmore pointed out that while police continue to investigate the June 27 incident that left her hospitalized, she was taken into custody Wednesday soon after a pro-police supporter complained to officers.

“How was I arrested before the white supremacist who hit me with his truck?” Passmore asked, applause erupting behind her.

“When it comes to those fighting for truth and justice, it’s an immediate arrest ... But we got white supremacists driving around in trucks and TPD has been ‘investigating’ their ass off for two months now.”

Related: Tampa Bay drivers have run into protesters. Why haven’t they been arrested?

Passmore was again hospitalized after her Wednesday arrest and given a notice to appear in court on the two misdemeanors.

Her attorney, Gretchen Cothron, addressed the her client’s arrest. She asked people to watch video from the incident and not just rely on the police version of events, which she labeled as false. One such false claim, Cothorn said, is the allegation in Passmore’s arrest report that she hit a pro-police “the back of the head.”

Activist Jae Passmore's attorney Gretchen Cothron addresses her recent arrest during a press conference at Lykes Gaslight Square Park in Tampa on Friday, August 14, 2020. [ IVY CEBALLO | Times ]

“I will ask everyone, please, watch the video that the Tampa Police Department posted on their YouTube page in their defense,” Cothron said. “Nowhere in the video and not in any of the live streams that I’ve seen — not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on Instagram — I have not seen one video of Miss Passmore slapping anybody in the back of the head with an open palm.”

The attorney said officers should have tried to talk to Passmore before using force.

Sheridan Murphy, who helped found Florida Indigenous Rights and Environmental Equality, in his remarks to reporters, quoted Fred Hampton, a civil rights activist and Black Panther who was killed by law enforcement in 1969.

“You can kill a revolutionary, but you can’t kill the revolution,” Murphy said, then added his own words: “The reality of what’s happening here should revolt any human being. The fact that you can say ‘Black Lives Matter’ is controversial, in America, in 2020, is disgusting.”

Passmore called on Tampa City Council members to back their movement, or risk a recall election before the end of their terms.

“We will be in the streets, we will be in the voting booths collecting petitions,” Passmore said, “but this city will change by choice or by force.”