TAMPA — It wasn’t a protest. Organizers made that clear Friday night. The gathering at Joe Chillura Courthouse Square was for more than that.
It was vigil for Breonna Taylor, after a grand jury decided not to charge any police officers for her death. And it was a call for demonstrators to recommit themselves to fighting police violence and racial inequality.
Jae Passmore, who has helped lead the demonstrations, pushed the crowd of more than 100 to continue marching for Taylor — and for all the protesters who have been arrested in Tampa since May 30.
“Don’t say you stand for Breonna Taylor, don’t say you stand for Black women if you can’t do something as simple as picking up the phone and saying drop the charges for the protesters,” Passmore said. “It’s bigger than Breonna Taylor ...
"Our people want justice, and justice isn’t dropped charges. But it’s a good start.”
The crowd grew as the sun set. After an hour of speeches, the group then marched to the nearby Historic Hillsborough County Courthouse, where candles were lit and a moment of silence was held in honor of Taylor.
The Louisville grand jury chose not to charge any officers in the shooting death of Taylor, who was a 26-year-old Louisville emergency medical technician killed March 13 by officers serving a “no-knock” warrant.
Instead, they charged one officer for firing into a neighbor’s apartment. The city fired an officer and agreed to pay her family a $12 million settlement and implement several police reforms.
That decision sparked vigils and protests throughout the country and in Tampa Bay.
Vigil-goers in downtown Tampa circled around candles that were combined to spell Taylor’s initials. “BT."
Later in the vigil, Passmore called on everybody in attendance to pull out their cell phones and create a new contact. She then read off the number for Hillsborough County State Attorney Andrew Warren’s office, and urged the crowd to continue calling until all the charges against protesters are dropped.
“Whether it’s in your car tonight or when you wake up tomorrow, keep calling ...,” Passmore said. “The time is now.”
Warren dropped charges brought against 67 protesters in June, saying he would also work to expunge records of those arrested for unlawful assembly during a protest earlier that month. Warren did the same with Black Lives Matter muralists and others who were arrested in August and the beginning of September.
Among those to have their charges dropped was Passmore herself, after Tampa police said she struck a law enforcement supporter in the head during a confrontation in August. Video released by police did not appear to back the supporter’s account, however.
Stay on top of what’s happening in Tampa
Subscribe to our free Tampa Times newsletter
You’re all signed up!
Want more of our free, weekly newsletters in your inbox? Let’s get started.Explore all your options
When Warren announced the decision Sept. 4, he said in a statement that the State Attorney’s Office was exercising its “discretion not to expend limited resources prosecuting an extremely minor incident that presents no threat to public safety.”
But some protesters still have charges pending against them, Passmore said Friday. And she won’t stop until every charge against a protester has been dropped.
“We’ve got a lot of pain, but we’ve also got a lot of fighters,” she said. “We won’t stop.”
• • •
Coverage of local and national protests from the Tampa Bay Times
WHAT PROTESTERS WANT: Protesters explain what changes would make them feel like the movement is successful.
WHAT ARE NON-LETHAL AND LESS-LETHAL WEAPONS? A guide to what’s used in local and national protests.
WHAT ARE ARRESTED PROTESTERS CHARGED WITH? About half the charges filed have included unlawful assembly.
CAN YOU BE FIRED FOR PROTESTING? In Florida, you can. Learn more.
HEADING TO A PROTEST? How to protect eyes from teargas, pepper spray and rubber bullets.