Heavy Rains Fail to Deter Florida Protesters

Protesters gathered in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse in Tampa, Florida, on Friday. (Courthouse News photo/Alex Pickett)

TAMPA, Fla. (CN) — Heavy rain dousing marchers failed to stop the seventh day of protests in Florida cities across the state as demonstrators decried the death of George Floyd.

From Miami to Tallahassee, Floridians rallied and marched in the memory of the victims of police brutality while demanding changes in police departments and the White House.

The protests on Friday remained peaceful, a far cry from the burning, looting and clashes with police that defined last weekend’s gatherings in Tampa, Miami and Ft. Lauderdale.

Though smaller than rallies in other states, the protests showed no sign of slowing heading into a rainy weekend.

In Tampa, a few hundred protesters gathered in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse, holding homemade “Black Lives Matter” signs and chanting,” No justice, no peace!”

With the backdrop of a Lady Justice statue, the protesters, diverse in age and race, laid on their stomachs for nearly nine minutes – the amount of time Minnesota police officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd – while yelling, “I can’t breathe!”

They also sang happy birthday in honor of Breonna Taylor, who was shot and killed by Louisville police during a no-knock search warrant. She would have turned 27 on Friday.

Chris Escobar, who traveled from nearby Pinellas County, brought two friends to support the cause.

“We’re sad about all the injustices,” he said, “and it feels like we’re repeating history.”

Escobar, 30, shared his own experiences with racism and police.

“I’ve been stopped for no reason,” he said. “I’ve been stopped based on my skin color or what I’m wearing at the moment. They see a younger Hispanic in a nicer car – that’s prejudice.”

Chris Escobar and his friends joined the march in Tampa on Friday. “I think we can definitely move ahead with all these younger kids and turn things around.” (Courthouse News photo/Alex Pickett)

Nearby, Gabriel Rodriguez held a “Black Lives Matter” sign facing commuters leaving downtown offices. Rodriguez, 23, said he’s never attended a protest before.

“I saw all these things online showing police brutality and I had to be here,” he said. “Seeing other people protest is really inspiring. I think it’s really important to exercise the First Amendment.”

Rodriguez also said he came out to support a friend who Tampa police arrested during a protest on Thursday along with three others.

Police claim Emadi Okwuosa, 22, encouraged protesters to march onto the interstate. He’s charged with inciting a riot. Two others were charged with assault on a law enforcement officer.

In a widely circulated video, police tackled a woman with an umbrella and sprayed the crowd with pepper spray.

Earlier in the day, Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan defended officers’ actions, claiming the woman attempted to hit two officers with her umbrella.

“We need people to take back the protest and point out the ones who are not there to peacefully protest,” he said during a press conference.

Protesters lie down to memorialize George Floyd in Tampa on Friday. (Courthouse News photo/Alex Pickett)

Tampa police were largely absent from Friday’s gathering, choosing to stay in parking lots a block away. Police presence, including officers in full riot gear, have been a mainstay of other days’ protests. Large dump trucks and barricades still surround the downtown police station.

After a few more chants at the courthouse, protesters marched toward a waterfront park as dark clouds rolled in. Some protesters attempted to block traffic, but organizer Christopher Dawson convinced them to move.

“Get out of the way!” he shouted through a megaphone. “You will get arrested!”

After reaching the park, a massive downpour caused the rally goers to quickly melt away to their cars.

Most protests in the state ended similarly. In Tallahassee, a few dozen rallied in front of the Florida State Capitol early in the day. Hundreds of protesters in Orlando gathered at a park and marched to city hall, dispersing before the city’s 8 p.m. curfew.

Miami demonstrators shut down Interstate 95, prompting Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Gimenez to move up a curfew from midnight to 10 p.m.

In West Palm Beach, a mass of protesters marched through pouring rain, chanting “I can’t breathe!”

The water-logged crowd congregated at an amphitheater along the intracoastal, at which point several youths began shouting, “Fuck Donald Trump.”

It was a mix of black and white protesters, many of whom were teenagers. ​

Protests in the West Palm Beach area have remained largely peaceful since last Sunday when municipal police used dispersant gas and rubber bullets on a crowd.

The West Palm Beach Police Department claims it resorted to using the rubber bullets after members of the crowd began jumping on cars, throwing rocks at officers and attacking a bystander.

“You have to be able to conceptually separate us from the people taking advantage of the situation,” said Tiffani Kinnaman during Friday’s protest. “There are peaceful protesters, and then you have rioters and people using this moment to commit crimes.”​

Standing next to Tiffani, Kelli Kinnaman said she believes the nationwide scope of the protests this past week will lead to lasting change in police tactics and criminal justice, not just temporary reform.​

“Our generation is a generation of change,” said the 22-year-old. “The fight for justice that started years ago — we are hoping to continue that and end it here.”​

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