The same Tampa organizers who helped bring nearly 2,000 Black Lives Matter supporters to Bayshore Boulevard this summer have announced a Saturday march that’ll start in East Tampa’s College Hill neighborhood.
A flyer for the April 24 solidarity march says, “Come in peace, bring a mask, water + snacks.” The march starts at 2:30 p.m. at Cyrus Green Park, located at 2101 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. at the border of College Hill and East Tampa (see flyer at bottom of post).
Donna Davis, co-founder and lead organizer for Black Lives Matter Tampa, told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay that she wouldn’t be surprised if a couple thousand people showed up, but added that apprehension surrounding Florida’s new anti-dissent, 1A-crackdown legislation could affect turnout.
That steaming hot, mile-high turd of legislation—CS/HB1 Combating Public Disorder—in part creates a new felony crime of “aggravated rioting,” that carries a sentence of up to 15 years in prison. The bill also protects Confederate monuments along with other racist memorials, statues and historic property, and limits local governments from reducing bloated police budgets.
Early drafts of HB1 also gave immunity to drivers who run over protesters blocking traffic, but that line has since been removed along with the state's ability to charge an organizer with racketeering if a demonstration takes a violent turn.
Davis told CL that the marches she helps organize provide people a pressure valve to express their thoughts, feelings and First Amendment rights. Her group is never interested in telling people how to express themselves, but it does bring a baseline group of 50 members to help with security and other logistics.
“Add in medics, bike medics, guerilla medics, chant leaders and organizers, and it can be up to 100 people helping out,” Davis said.
She feels like HB1 poses a direct challenge to the constitution, seeks to criminalize folks expressing their First Amendment rights and doesn’t clearly delineate between peaceful and non-peaceful protest. “Non-violent and peaceful are not the same thing—we have always been non-violent,” Davis added.
Like other local George Floyd protests that saw groypers infiltrate crowds, Davis said some of her group’s past actions have been visited by outside provocateurs.
“But our group works and is trained to ID agitators,” Davis said. “The size of our crowds work to our advantage. It’s risky for a provocateur to try and agitate the situation when they're surrounded by hundreds of people—our crowds are prophylactic if you will.”
A rep for the Tampa Police Department has yet to respond to a CL inquiry about its approach to Saturday’s Black Lives Matter March, but last night Police Chief Brian Dugan told a policing task force that he doesn’t see HB1 affecting the way it polices demonstrators.
“You know, we as an agency are still going to give everybody and opportunity to express their first amendment rights,” Dugan said. “I don't see it affecting a whole lot of things and we are going to continue to work with people to try and get their first amendment rights and we will negotiate with them so to speak, and make sure we communicate with them, and we are hopefully going to avoid making any arrests."
Davis said her group does not coordinate with police and has no assurances about how police will handle their action.
At the onset of Tampa’s George Floyd protests, TPD pepper sprayed protesters in downtown Tampa, arrested a 17-year-old with an umbrella and also clashed with protesters on the Fourth of July. A 2019 Response to Resistance report—issued before the Floyd protests—showed that TPD saw a 24% increase in punches and kicks, and a 223% increase in the use of chemical agents. A local veteran is even suing the City of Tampa after he suffered a traumatic brain injury when a police officer fired a rubber bullet at the back of his head.
“This is not a game, and we’re out here risking our freedom,” Davis added.
“As Dr. King said, ‘The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice,’” Davis said, alluding to legislators who seek to maintain control with so-called-laws that she calls unlawful. “They cannot dam the tide of justice. Maybe not in our lifetime, but we are patient, and we will win.”
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