Peaceful Protesters in Florida demand end to racism, police abuse

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — For a fourth day in a row, Floridians held rallies on Tuesday to protest racism and police brutality following the death of George Floyd, who pleaded for air while a white Minneapolis police officer put his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck for several minutes.

A protester holds up his hands in front of the St. Petersburg (Fla.) Police Department, Sunday, May 31, 2020, as police stand on the steps of the department. The group was protesting the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis. (Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times via AP)

Around 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.”

Batiste, 39, who said she is a recently unemployed massage therapist in Orlando, described the nation’s leadership as nonexistent.

“I wish there was a president. I don’t think we have a president at the moment,” she said. ’We have somebody just dictating left and right. He’s not here with us trying to solve the problems. He’s just adding to the fire.”

Devin Peyton Latimer held a sign that said, “They Wanted to Go Home Too” with the names of those killed by police. Her friends, Morgan Thompson and Yalitza Uriba, held signs that said, “We all bleed red. Not white or blue” and, “Hands Up Don’t Shoot.”

“Racism is embedded in our society and it always has been, and I’m here to stop it,” said Latimer, 23, an aesthetician in Orlando. “It’s unreal. I can’t believe we are still fighting something that was supposed to be abolished in 1865. And we’re still here fighting the same fight.”

The friends— white, black and Hispanic — said they believed President Donald Trump was enabling racism in the U.S.

“The president is giving the federal government power to put down African Americans, and it’s wrong. It’s just wrong,” said Thompson, a 23-year-old student.

Added Uriba, 24, who works at an interior design firm, “This has been going on for 400 plus years already. When is it going to stop?”

Nearly 50 minutes after the city’s 10 p.m. curfew went into effect, Orlando Police said officers deployed tear gas and smoke after “a few remaining participants” started throwing rocks and bottles at them.

A demonstration in Miami 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.

Trinity Auberry, 22, arrived at the demonstration with four other friends. It was the first time protesting for the young black model, who said the death of Floyd is not isolated and cases of “police brutality” are also common in Florida.

“It happens everywhere. There’s been cases here too. It’s all over,” Auberry said. “I just pray for the hearts of the wicked to be changed. If their hearts don’t change, it’s the same cycle over and over again.”

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.”

Tuesday’s rallies continued four days of protests in Florida that started over the weekend.

In St. Petersburg, a police officer suffered a minor injury during a late-night protest Monday outside of the agency’s headquarters, police said.

A group of about 200 protesters were outside the headquarters in St. Petersburg around 11 p.m. Monday when some in the crowd tore the covers off parking meters and threw them at officers, the agency said in a Facebook post. Several protesters then threw rocks and bottles at officers, the agency said.

“At that point officers deployed smoke and told the crowd to leave. No tear gas was used. Those who refused to leave were arrested,” the post said.

Meanwhile, outside Tampa, a huge Confederate battle flag was lowered from its towering pole near Interstates 4 and 75 after threats appeared on social media calling for it to be set on fire.

David R. McCallister, who leads the local chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans, said that removing the 30-foot by 60-foot (9-meter by 18-meter) battle flag wasn’t a decision made in fear.

McCallister said in a Facebook post that threats also had been made against a bust of General Robert E. Lee in Fort Myers.

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News Talk Florida Staff