On Sunday evening, just after 5:30 p.m., Tampa Mayor Jane Castor and Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan announced a 7:30 p.m. curfew that goes until 6 a.m. In a press conference, Castor said the curfew, put in place in an abundance of caution, runs for “every day that is necessary,” but added that the city is “hopeful that this evening will be the only evening that it needs to be used.”
Less than an hour later, crowds leftover from peaceful protests that started at 3 p.m. at Cyrus Greene Park, in East Tampa near College Hills, had blocked off at least one intersection (Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 22nd Street, a five-minute walk from the Tampa Police District 3 Station) and set fire to tires and debris.
At 8:19 p.m., Tampa Police shot what appeared to be nonlethal rounds at protestors.
“We are asking that all of the peaceful protesters to please go home,” Castor said in the press conference. “We have agitators that are out there; they're out there right now, destroying property. And so we need individuals to go home and stay home this evening. We are trying to keep our city, safe and sound for all of our residents.”
Castor added that essential trips (ie: grocery store, pharmacy) will still be allowed under the curfew, along with folks who must work late. Journalists and other essential workers are also allowed to be out, no paperwork required.
“Should they be stopped by law enforcement, they won't have to have any paperwork at all,” Castor added. “Just a simple conversation with the law enforcement officer if you're on your way to or from work, have an emergency or immediate need that you have to go to a pharmacy or have to visit a grocery store, then you will be able to do that with the understanding you need to call ahead because the majority of these businesses are going to be shut down at 7:30 at night.”
Earlier, hundreds of people marched through the streets of Tampa, protesting for the end of police violence in the wake of the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was killed by Mineapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin was arrested on Friday and charged with murder and manslaughter.
At around 3 p.m., the group left from Cyrus Greene Park and marched down N. 22nd Street.
Robin Lockett, the regional director for Organize Florida, cheered on the marchers as they left the park. Lockett said the looting that took place Saturday night in North Tampa was a distraction from the real issue.
“I don’t agree with that, the looting, the vandalism. That undermines the law,” Lockett told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. She added that march organizers were keeping a close eye on protesters, looking out for troublemakers.
“Agitators sometimes get mixed in and you need to identify them,” she told CL.
“We’re the only group that has to tell our kids how to approach the police,” added Lockett, who has two sons.
Tamara Shamburger, Hillsborough County School Board Member, was there participating, representing District 5.
“This is my community. This is the community I represent,” Shamburger told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay. “The issues that happen in this community are the exact reasons I ran for school board. Education is going to be the biggest impact on changing or shifting what’s happening in our community.”
Some organizers of the peaceful Black Lives Matter protest are pastors from different churches throughout Tampa.
By 5 p.m., police officers told protestors gathered near Dr. Martin Luther King Boulevard and 22nd Street, just a five-minute walk from the District 3 station, that the gathering was an “unlawful assembly,” adding they will arrest anyone still present in five minutes. Around 6 p.m., police had dispersed while protestors remained, where they blocked the intersection.
Sunday’s protests came a day after a Saturday marked by early, peaceful , and emotionally-charged, protests and demonstrations in downtown Tampa, St. Petersburg and Temple Terrace that each drew hundreds of demonstrators. in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay. The Temple Terrace gathering gave way to looting and clashes with law enforcement at the University Mall and surrounding areas.
On Saturday in St. Pete, a 2 p.m. protest started at City Hall. Past St. Petersburg City Council member Eritha “Akile” Cainion, a member of the African People's Socialist Party who lost a District 7 seat to Lisa Wheeler-Bowman in 2019, led the crowd through chants before the action moved to Fifth Street and First Avenue N. before stopping at the St. Petersburg police headquarters.
In Tampa on Saturday, hundreds gathered in front of Tampa Police headquarters for a march through downtown where officers on bicycles blocked intersections and stopped traffic for protesters. Some protestors confronted police in exchanges that echoed the frustration of a country sick of the shortcomings of a criminal justice system that’s been unfair to Black people.
“Cops may shoot and kill twice as many white people as black, but there [are] about six times as many white people as black people in the United States,” Washington Post opinion writer Radley Balko wrote on Friday. “Proportionally, black people are much more likely to be shot and killed by cops.”
And in Temple Terrace on Saturday, around 3 p.m., the University of South Florida Chapter of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society readied a crowd at the intersection of 56th Street and Fowler Avenue for a march down Fowler. Officers also assisted protesters as they moved down Fowler where demonstrators were joined by City of Tampa officials like Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan and Tampa Mayor Jane Castor.
On Thursday, Dugan took to Twitter to say he talked to folks who are “angry, disturbed and dismayed” over a video showing George Floyd being knelt on by Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin who was arrested and charged with third degree murder and manslaughter on Friday
“This incident doesn’t make all cops bad and it doesn’t make you anti police if your outraged over this,” Dugan wrote. “Wanting cops to be held accountable doesn’t mean you don’t support the police.”
On Twitter Saturday, the City of Tampa quoted Martin Luther King Jr. in a post showing Castor talking to protestors at the corner of N. 50th St. and Fowler Avenue.
In 2018, ahead of her run for the mayor’s office, Castor apologized after a 2015 Tampa Bay Times report found that the Tampa Police Department, with her as Chief, disproportionately ticketed black bicyclists.
“...eight out of 10 Tampa bicyclists who got tickets for infractions like riding without a light or with someone on the handlebars were black,” Times columnist Sue Carlton wrote. “That's 80 percent, if you're doing the math.”
Many protesters felt the use of force by Tampa Police officers was unjust.
Alicia Johnson, one of the Sunday protesters, was on the front line against officers when they stood blocking the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and 22nd Street.
“If there was no riot, why were they dressed in riot gear? Why was a pepper bullet shot at my face? And why was it re-aimed when he missed and missed again? When I was doing nothing but standing with both my hands holding my sign, kneeling on the ground in solidarity with my brothers,” Johnson told CL.
“Being a woman of color, being a black woman, and also having the privilege of being lighter skinned, I felt like my voice is heard more than my darker counterparts,” Johnson added. “I thought that I'd be doing my own community an injustice if I stay quiet because this is a matter that not only affects me, my sister, my brother, my father, but this affects my fellow brothers and sisters that I do not know.”
Another protester, Dani Semidey, was inflicted with a gas irritant as she was helping someone else who had been sprayed with a gas irritant.
“They had no reason to do that to her, she wasn’t doing anything but standing in front of them,” Semidey told CL.
The interview was cut short, as officers advanced on the crowd, aiming chemical irritants and nonlethal bullets at the protesters.
Saturday’s protests were largely peaceful until the evening when some of the leftover protesters from the Temple Terrace action started setting off fireworks and throwing bottles at officers in riot gear. By 9 p.m., local TV news affiliates had their cameras fixed on a fire at a Mobil gas station near the southwest corner of Busch Gardens.
“Busch Blvd is closed between N 26th & N 34th St as @TampaFireRescue works a fire at N 30th St & protest agitators throw rocks at first responders who are working to keep the community safe,” Tampa Police wrote on Twitter.
Nearby, looters breached Gold N Diamonds and AT&T stores. Nearby businesses, including CVS, Metro PCS, Pizza Hut and Little Greek were also looted, according to photos by Tampa Bay Times photographer Luis Santana.
Multiple stores looted on Fowler. pic.twitter.com/LIVdP7XmEp— Luis Santana (@LuisSantana) May 31, 2020
At University Mall, several hundreds gathered in the parking lot as Hillsborough County Sheriffs in riot gear lined up to protect the southeast corner of the mall, near the Sears Auto Center. Protestors breached at least one storefront (and went for a ride on an armored vehicle). By 1 a.m. Sunday, a nearby Champs footwear store was engulfed in flames.
In a strange twist, a white supremacist group infiltrated Saturday's Temple Terrace protest before ending up getting on air during a live segment by local ABC affiliate WFTS.
This is a developing story.
UPDATED: 06/01/20 Updated to include comments from Sunday protestors.
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