ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mostly peaceful rallies in Tampa and St. Petersburg took a turn late Tuesday when police used smoke grenades, nonlethal rounds, pepper canisters and other measures to disperse crowds.
Protesters fled, screaming and angry, and police made dozens of arrests, and briefly detained two Tampa Bay Times reporters who were covering the events, the newspaper reported.
Across Florida, multiple rallies were held Tuesday to protest racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, a black man who pleaded for air while a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes.
In St. Petersburg, a group of protesters went to police headquarters late Tuesday, where tensions heightened. Police Chief Anthony Holloway said a group of people were “setting off explosives and we don’t know what those explosives are.”
Officers told the crowd to leave the area, and then launched smoke and what appeared to be flash bangs at the crowd, the Times reported. Police and Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies closed in on the crowd, arresting a number of them. A reporter was briefly detained and his hands were placed in zipties.
In Tampa, a few dozen protesters ended up outside the courthouse late Tuesday when police ordered them to disperse. An officer using a loud speaker from atop a pickup truck declared an unlawful assembly, the newspaper reported. Other officers formed a line with their bicycles. Protesters started pushing against them and officers fired nonlethal rounds, smoke grenades and pepper canisters.
The newspaper reported that protesters began running and officers made a number of arrests, including a Times reporter whose hands were put in zipties for 10 to 15 minutes before she was released.
On Tuesday afternoon, some 2,000 peaceful demonstrators outside Orlando City Hall chanted “Black Lives Matter!” and “George Floyd” as cloudy skies threatened rain. They then walked more than a mile (1.6 kilometers) to the Orlando Police Department headquarters.
Aisxia Batiste held a sign that said, “Stop Racism”and listed the names of African Americans who have died at the hands of police officers, including Breonna Taylor and Tamir Rice.
“This has to change,” said Batiste, who describes herself as mixed race. “Something has to give. We’re done. This is the beginning of the end of something. It has to be.”
In Miami, a demonstration grew to about 400 people as protesters marched from a courthouse to Overtown, a historically black neighborhood north of downtown. Demonstrators sat on one knee during several stops to listen to organizers shouting instructions that they were to remain peaceful and hydrated in the 80-degree weather. They shouted “No Justice, No Peace. No racist police” as more than 30 officers in body armor followed the group a few blocks behind.
Barry Dudley, 20, a black college student from Miami, said he wants to see changes in law enforcement agencies around the country. Dudley goes to Barry University where he majors in criminology.
“I honestly don’t disagree with police using force when needed, but not this excessive force,” he said referring to the death of Floyd in Minnesota and Taylor in Kentucky. “I just want to see better treatment within the police officers.”
Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles said it fired two employees over “hateful, racist and threatening remarks” about protesters in texts and on social media.
“This conduct is not in any way reflective of the Troopers and employees of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles … and this abhorrent and reprehensible conduct will not be tolerated,” the agency tweeted.