June 1, 2020
By Tiffany Razzano
TAMPA – After a weekend of protests in Tampa, Mayor Jane Castor announced the extension of a citywide curfew at a Monday morning press conference.
The curfew applies to all individuals and businesses, with few exceptions, and will be in effect Monday from 7:30 p.m. through Tuesday at 6 a.m.
Like others held throughout the country, the demonstrations were in response to the death of a black man, George Floyd, while in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department last week. Though the Tampa gatherings were peaceful during the day, they turned violent Saturday night with the burning and looting of businesses in the University Mall area.
Forty-one arrests were made late Saturday into early Sunday, while 21 were arrested Sunday afternoon into early Monday, Castor said.
Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan, who joined the mayor at Monday’s press conference, said arrests made during Sunday’s protests were for a variety of charges, including burglary, battery, disorderly conduct and violation of the curfew, which first went into effect Sunday evening.
Though there were fewer violent incidents Sunday and Castor doesn’t “anticipate that (the city) will have any issues” today, the curfew has been extended out of “an abundance of caution,” she said. While she apologized for “any inconvenience that it may cause our community…that slight inconvenience really pales in the comparison to our ability to keep all of our citizens – all of our citizens – safe.”
The mayor stressed that the majority of those protesting over the weekend “peacefully expressed themselves.”
“I want to thank the community, thank the citizens, thank those individuals who came out to express their positions, their opinions, and continue to do so in a peaceful fashion,” she said. “As has always been the case, the individuals that cause problems, that are out here being violent, being disruptive, causing property damage, are the minority, very, very few.”
The city will investigate whether outside agitators instigated violence during the protests, Castor added.
“I haven’t seen any evidence that there are outside agitators, but anecdotally, when you look at some of the individuals and the way that they are conducting themselves, it appears that they’re not necessarily causing the damage, but agitating the crowds towards physical damage and/or violence,” she said.
Dugan said that Tampa police used a variety of “non-lethal tactics” to quell violent protestors during Sunday’s Black Lives Matter gathering near Cyrus Greene Park.
“(Protestors) need to understand they’re not going to throw rocks and bottles at the police or anyone else and when you take those actions, we’re going to take swift actions,” he said.
Still, most protestors were “peaceful,” he said, and the event’s organizers worked with police, alerting them to agitators in the crowd.
“There’s a misconception about Black Lives Matter,” he said. “They’re not anti-cop. They’re anti-police brutality, as we all should be, and they feel like they’re not being heard, and that’s why they’re doing what they do.”
The size of the march, which Dugan said is one of the largest he’s seen during his three decades with the Tampa Police Department, made it easy for those with “ill intent” to escalate violence as the event ended. This included breaking into Hope’s Food Store on North 22nd Street, he said.
“The agitators vanish once they get everyone else going,” he added. “We definitely saw different crowds (while at the District 3 station.) I assure you the protestors that were out there trying to engage with police were not the people that live there. We know the people that live there.”
The Florida National Guard was deployed to Tampa Sunday to assist local police. They mostly provided security to county buildings in the downtown area and other locations, Castor said.
Dugan said the National Guard has already been released from their duties by the mayor.
He also acknowledged that it is “a trying time in our city,” adding that he supports the protests surrounding Floyd’s death.
“Black lives matter. That is what this is all about,” he said. “People feel like black lives don’t matter, and I want you to know that as your chief of police that I acknowledge that feeling and that black lives matter. All lives have value no matter who we are, and people need to understand that.”
He continued, “When cooler heads prevail, I want everyone to know that we promise as a police department and a city that we will work with everyone to rebuild the trust and the communication in our community. I will shut up and listen to you, but I cannot listen while we have any civil unrest in our city. We will restore order. We will do everything that we can to ensure that we have an open, peaceful dialogue.”
Castor added, “Your voices have been heard over the weekend. They’ve been heard loud and clear.”