Protesters gathered in downtown Orlando to show support for George Floyd on Saturday, May 30, 2020. George Floyd died after a confrontation while in police custody on Monday, May 25, 2020. Photo and Caption: Ira Bostic/Shutterstock.com
Protests have erupted across the Sunshine State and nationwide after the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man who died in Minneapolis, Minnesota. A white police officer pressed his knee into Floyd’s neck for over 8 minutes even as he pleaded for air. The officer, Derek Chauvin, has been fired and is now charged with murder.
Many protesters this weekend in Florida were peaceful, but some demonstrations became violet and even included the stabbing of a police officer. Many local businesses were looted and vandalized. In Gainesville and Tallahassee, protesters were hit by moving vehicles. Police in some cities responded with tear gas. The confrontations also prompted elected officials in several cities to impose curfews, including those who never did so at the height of the coronavirus pandemic.
DeSantis spokeswoman Helen Aguirre Ferré announced via Twitter that the governor had activated the guard on Saturday.
In downtown and midtown Tallahassee, protests started out peaceful but were soon marred when a pickup truck hit a group of protesters on North Monroe Street. Three white people in a red pickup truck with a Georgia license plate yelled at the crowd of Black Lives Matter protesters, then revved their engines before driving into the crowd, witnesses told the Tallahassee Democrat. Some wound up on the hood of the car, which may have shattered the windshield. Black Lives Matter protesters then left the area and marched toward the Capitol Building.
Chaos also erupted in Gainesville after a vocal but peaceful mass of more than 1,000 protesters marched from Depot Park to Bo Diddley Plaza Saturday morning to call for justice and accountability for the deaths of African-Americans at the hands of police. Thankfully, the event itself happened without incident. A man was later arrested for allegedly trying to drive through a group of people who had been at the rally and pulling a gun on them. His car was damaged by the group.
In Jacksonville, thousands of people marched peacefully on police headquarters in protest against law enforcement abuses of force and calling for reforms in the law enforcement and criminal justice systems. Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said that one officer had been hospitalized after being “slashed in the neck.” Broken glass and damage to Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office vehicles were reported, as was the firing of tear gas.
Saturday’s demonstrators accused Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Mayor Lenny Curry and State Attorney Melissa Nelson of not being transparent about the city’s officer-involved shootings.
Protest organizers said there is a pattern of excessive police use of force against black residents, a racially disproportionate number of police-involved shootings, and a growing number of questionable police shootings.
Tampa Mayor Jane Castor summoned about 100 members of the National Guard to help keep law and order during the protests, saying the move was preventative. The National Guard remains at a staging ground outside Raymond James Stadium.
The city of Tampa instituted a citywide curfew following Saturday night’s protests.The curfew was effective from 7:30 p.m. Sunday to 6 a.m. Monday and will last until further notice, city officials said in a news release. The curfew applies to all businesses and people within the city.
Violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor and carries a penalty of up to 60 days imprisonment and/or a $500 fine. Tampa police said more than 40 people were arrested during Saturday night’s demonstrations on charges ranging from burglary to rioting.
In Lakeland, a group of almost 50 people from throughout Polk County gathered at the corner of Kathleen Road and West 5th Street on Saturday morning for a silent sit-in, hoping to send a message of solidarity to a nation grieving the death of George Floyd.
Many white protesters sat in lawn chairs on the side of the road holding signs that read, “Justice” and “Solidarity.”
Fort Myers saw a rally draw a crowd that included several people with masks imprinted with “I can’t breathe”, echoing George Floyd’s words as he died on a Minneapolis street. Dozens gathered at Centennial Park on Saturday, cars whizzing overhead on the bridge spanning the Caloosahatchee River. As people trickled in twos and threes into the park, two girls held signs that read “Black lives matter” and “I can’t breathe,” while some adults sported “Black lives matter” T-shirts. Others in the crowd of blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics held signs with “no justice, no peace” and “stop killing innocent black lives”. Within a half-hour of its planned start, nearly 70 people had gathered with more entering the park.
In Orando, protesters marched to the Orlando Police Department headquarters, where officers in riot gear guarded the building that was surrounded by metal barricades. Orlando Police Chief Orlando Rolón and Orange County Sheriff John Mina were at police headquarters, shaking hands with some of the protesters. They later knelt down and prayed with demonstrators. Protesters then headed to State Road 408, where Orlando police blocked westbound and eastbound entrances to the toll road.
Thousands of people in Fort Lauderdale, Miami and West Palm Beach took to the streets on Sunday, May 31, joining together to highlight what many see as systemic police violence toward African Americans.
Protesters and police face off at the entrance to the 408 East West Expressway in Orlando, Florida on Sunday, May 31, 2020 during protests supporting George Floyd. Photo and Caption: Chris Harris/Shutterstock.com
In West Palm Beach, a rally billed as “No Justice, No Peace” started at Rosemary Square and marched along Okeechobee Boulevard to South Dixie Highway. Some made their way to Interstate 95, forcing a temporary closure between Southern and Palm Beach Lakes boulevards.
In Fort Lauderdale, things turned ugly as police were forced to launch tear gas into the crowds. The police also ordered protesters to disperse. Organizers from the Broward chapters of Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America and Dream Defenders ensured an orderly protest as people marched from Huizenga Plaza at Bubier Park. They then walked north on Andrews Avenue, then west on Broward Boulevard to the city’s police headquarters. Police closed roads so the protesters could march safely.
Fort Lauderdale Mayor Dean Trantalis declared a state of emergency. Most people left the downtown area by about 9:30 p.m. Broward County Administrator Bertha Henry imposed a countywide curfew from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m. Trantalis and West Palm Beach Mayor Keith James ordered curfews in their cities from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The cities said their curfews are in place for Monday and Tuesday. The Broward County curfew lasts only until Monday morning but can be extended.
In Miami, protesters joined a march from near AmericanAirlines Arena to the Federal Detention Center and back to near Bayside Marketplace, where there was looting on Saturday night. Some blocked an entrance ramp on Interstate 395 for a short time. I-95 was also shut down by protesters, diverting vehicle traffic to other areas of downtown Miami.
As Miami’s curfew went into effect, authorities began blaring loud noises over loudspeakers in an attempt to encourage people to leave the downtown area.
Police face off with protesters in Downtown Miami on Sunday, May 31, 2020. Photo: Expensive/Shutterstock.com
Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez canceled the planned reopening of local beaches on Monday morning. The closing of Miami’s public beaches and places was part of emergency measures imposed in March to fight the spread of coronavirus. Gimenez said the beaches would remain closed until he lifts a countywide curfew.
Some state leaders such as Senator Marco Rubio and former governor Rick Scott took their thoughts about Floyd’s death and the protests to social media. But Gov. Ron DeSantis has kept quiet amid the protests rippling across the state. The governor’s Sunday schedule showed he talked to President Donald Trump as well as several mayors and the head of the National Guard.
The nationwide protests have raised concerns about the spread of the coronavirus pandemic. Social distancing was kept at a minimum during the protests, and there are concerns there may be another relapse of infections as protests continue throughout cities in the United States.
William is the Managing Editor at FloridaInsider.com. His years of experience in journalism, broadcasting and multimedia include roles as a Writer and Web Producer. He graduated from Florida International University with a Bachelor of Science and Communication.