Approximately 200 to 250 protesters marched through the streets of downtown Tampa on Friday night chanting “Whose Streets? Our Streets” and “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” among many other slogans to spread the message of ending police brutality.
“Tampa Stands with Ferguson #ShutitDown” began at Lykes Gaslight Park at 6 p.m. Demonstrators then walked through downtown Tampa to Kennedy Boulevard, Ashley Drive and Curtis Hixon Park, where they interrupted the Tampa’s Annual Tree Lighting Ceremony located across from the University of Tampa.
Gabi Bayer, a freshman and advertising and public relations major, was walking back from Frank and Carol Morsani Hall when she saw the protesters.
“My friend Hannah wanted to do it [protest] and I’ve been seeing a lot of the riots on TV and I thought, ‘You know, just join it now’ cause it seemed important. It’s an important matter,” Bayer said.
The peaceful protest was patrolled by the Tampa Police Department’s bike team, mounted policemen and police vehicles, none of which had to make any arrests.
“This protest started as a coalition. There were all sorts of different groups…There was Tampa Food Not Bombs, Dream Defenders, Snick. We all just got together and we decided this injustice shouldn’t go unnoticed in the city of Tampa,” said Sol Marquez, a member of Raices en Tampa and Freedom Road Socialist Organization.
The Tampa Police Department knew of the protest in advance. They allocated some of their manpower but stated “we didn’t do a special deployment,” according to the TPD Media Relations Department.
“We didn’t know to what extent it would be,” Tampa Police Sgt. Mark Delage said. “The only thing we try to do during protests is keep everybody safe from getting run over by cars, give them an opportunity to protest where they want to, let them march if they want to.”
The Tree Lighting Ceremony was postponed as protesters gathered in front of the performance stage where they chanted “Shut It Down.” As protesters walked to Ashley Drive, police officers stood next to them, and one officer joined in as he yelled in support to end police brutality.
Cindy Warren, a concession stand owner who was working at the Tree Lighting Ceremony, saw the protesters walking to the stage, where the performers were in Curtis Hixon Park. She expressed her disappointment about the delayed ceremony.
“It’s a family Christmas event, a spiritual event of lighting the Christmas tree. I think there’s a time and a place to protest,” Warren said. “I don’t think this was it with all the kids here not understanding what all was happening. The kids were getting scared. I know a lot of the elderly folks had left because they were afraid that something was going to happen.”
While some protesters joined due to recent events such as the ongoing unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, others took part because they had a personal connection. Local protester Anthony Gannaio said he lost a friend to police brutality.
“My friend Jared Speakman was killed by a St. Pete police officer … for trespassing and there was no conviction. He was a white kid by the way,” Gannaio said. “Lets just talk about the systematic racism in America against every race that’s not white. Let’s talk about uncountable cop violences towards people of color, of people of gender, women and mentally handicapped people. It’s just an injustice that needs to stop and this is where it happens.”
Protesters, like local Pamela Bentford, have stated that this is not a one time thing; they will continue to move forward until they see progress.
“I think it takes people to get out of their comfort zone and to stop being selfish. … People have to realize there is a problem and it can’t be a fad,” Bentford said. “It can’t be something that we all just do one time and then it’s over we don’t do it again. It has to happen over and over until someone gets it because one time isn’t going to solve anything.”
Social media played a significant role in planning the Tampa protest. The event was advertised on Facebook, where organizers urged those interested to “stand in solidarity with the people and heroes of Ferguson and the other solidarity protests happening nationwide,” according to the Tampa Stands with Ferguson #ShutItDown Facebook page.
The organizations announced they plan to continue rallying and protesting in other areas of Florida to bring awareness to police brutality worldwide and locally.
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Additional reporting done by Doha Madani.