TAMPA — Tampa police will work with protesters who want to get their issues before the public eye, but blocking streets or interstates isn’t going to be tolerated, Mayor Jane Castor told the Tampa Bay Times Wednesday.
Tampa police arrested three men involved in Tuesday’s protest, who blocked Dale Mabry Boulevard for hours in support of Cuban protesters.
Castor said the police tried to work with everyone in the crowd and identify leaders who could persuade demonstrators to clear the major north-south artery on the city’s west side. But, ultimately, when the three men attempted to enter Interstate 275 or otherwise refused to disperse, they were correctly arrested, she said.
She was surprised to learn that Julian Rodriguez-Rodriguez, 30, of Tampa and Maikel Vasquez-Pico, 39, of Riverview, were detained overnight under the provisions of a new state anti-riot law. That news had been reported just hours before by the Times.
“So I’m surprised they wouldn’t just charge them with battery on a law enforcement officer,” Castor said. “But, anyway.”
Her police department treated the protesters with respect and patience, Castor said. The same way, the mayor said when asked, that Tampa police treated protestors last summer, who took to the streets to voice their anger at the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer.
Castor said that those who disagree with that portrayal — and there have been plenty — “never let the facts get in the way of a good story.”
When police used force to remove protestors from Dale Mabry last summer, she said, it was after “hours, days” of police officers closing intersections and making sure the protests remained safe, Castor said.
And while she didn’t endorse the use of the state anti-riot charges, or at least expressed ambivalence, she said protesters in the future would be well served to check with Tampa police before they decide to block streets.
“If you want to be seen blocking the intersection, okay. You can do that. And then get back off to the side where you’re safe. Because it’s always about the safety of the community,” Castor said. “Let us know what your goal is and we’ll help you achieve that in a safe manner.”
What the police department won’t do, said the mayor, who ran the department from 2009 to 2015, is allow lengthy delays. Castor said a woman in a diabetic seizure was stuck in traffic Monday, and emergency responders had trouble reaching her because of the traffic blockage.
Castor has expressed support for the Cuban people’s protests against the Cuban government’s failures to provide electricity, food and other essentials this week.
City Council members are poised to consider a resolution Thursday by Council member Luis Viera that formalizes the city’s support for the Cuban people’s right to peacefully protest for their democratic and civil rights.
Tampa, home to one of the country’s largest Cuban communities, has become a flashpoint in the evolving situation in Cuba. Viera, the son of Cuban refugees, said he believes his resolution would be the first among Florida cities to support the protests.
In Tampa, Castor said, that support needs to be shown within the bounds of the law — whoever is taking to the streets for whatever political reason.
“I think that you will see that the officers in the department as an organization, act on the same philosophy and that is providing a safe platform on which anyone can express their viewpoints, as long as they do it without property damage or physical harm,” Castor said.