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Monday, 01 June 2020 13:06

Local officials in Florida brace for violence, but most relax curfews after weekend protests, riots

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Police react after a demonstrator threw back a tear gas canister during a demonstration next to the city of Miami Police Department on Saturday, May 30, 2020 Police react after a demonstrator threw back a tear gas canister during a demonstration next to the city of Miami Police Department on Saturday, May 30, 2020

 

 

 

 

State and local officials were anxiously awaiting what Monday night might bring after weekend protests statewide were marred by violence, property damage and tense confrontations with police.

After a rash of rioting Saturday in Miami, Tampa and Jacksonville, at least 11 Florida municipalities imposed curfews Sunday that expired Monday morning. Miami-Dade County’s curfew remains in place.

Gov. Ron DeSantis had not declared a state of emergency in Florida. On Saturday, the governor activated nearly 500 National Guardsmen to respond to requests for assistance from local officials. As of Monday, 150 guardsmen were in Miramar, 100 were in Tampa and 150 were in Camp Blanding near Starke.

 

DeSantis had not addressed the demonstrations staged across the state and nation in the wake of last week’s death in Minneapolis of George Floyd – a black man who died in custody after a white police officer knelt on his neck for several minutes – until he issued a statement at 5 p.m. Monday.

“Florida has zero tolerance for violence, rioting and looting,” he said. “George Floyd’s murder was appalling, and the Minnesota perpetrators need to be brought to justice, but this cannot be used as a pretext for violence in our Florida communities.”

DeSantis said he has activated an additional 200 Florida National Guardsmen “specially trained to support law enforcement. I have also worked with the FHP to coordinate more than 1,300 sworn Florida Highway Patrol troopers to support local law enforcement efforts. We will continue to do everything necessary to keep residents safe.”

Weekend demonstrations were staged in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, West Palm Beach, Jacksonville, Orlando, Tampa, Tallahassee, Daytona Beach, Stuart, Lakeland and other Florida cities.

• Miami: Protesters Saturday night vandalized or set ablaze 17 squad cars outside Miami Police headquarters; hurled rocks and bottles, injuring four officers; shut down I-95; and looted stores inside Bayside Marketplace.

Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina said Sunday that 13 of the 57 people arrested Saturday were Miami residents. The Miami Herald reported, however, 30 had Miami-Dade County addresses. Eleven others were from Broward and Palm Beach counties, seven were not Florida residents and six were listed as homeless.

On Sunday, hundreds marched past the federal detention center and blocked the westbound lanes of I-395. They were confronted by Miami-Dade officers in riot gear and gradually dispersed without a repeat of Saturday’s violence.

 

Miami-Dade County remains under a curfew imposed by Mayor Carlos Gimenez. As a result, beaches – closed since March because of the COVID-19 emergency – did not open as planned Monday but may open Tuesday if the curfew is lifted.

• Fort Lauderdale: Police used tear gas along Las Olas Boulevard and near the the Broward County Library to break up what witnesses and media reported was a peaceful demonstration by about 2,500 people. One officer was suspended after video showed he pushed a kneeling woman to the ground, spurring protesters to throw bottles.

Police and local official said “agitators” are infiltrating organized marches.

“What I’m hearing from different sources is there are people embedded in these demonstrations to cause a lot of misery on people to make the demonstrators who were there early look bad and to really not benefit the cause of moving our country forward,” Broward County Mayor Dale Holness told CBS4 Sunday night.

• Tampa: Protesters smashed 40 store windows; looted AT&T, jewelry and Champs Sports stores; and set a Mobile gas station ablaze Saturday night. Police in riot gear confronted hundreds in University Mall’s parking lot and arrested 41. One Hillsborough County deputy was hit in the back of the head with a “hard object,” and a Tampa police officer was treated for minor burns after being struck by a “mortar.”

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor on Sunday imposed a 7:30 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew in response to Saturday protests and called for National Guard assistance.

On Sunday, thousands gathered and demonstrated, although there was little violence. Black Lives Matter organizers had nearly 100 “safety marshals” in fluorescent vests and with walkie-talkies, patrolling their march, using “de-escalation tactics” and watching for “antagonists.”

• Jacksonville: Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry on Sunday imposed an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew after Friday and Saturday protests turned violent in the face of tear gas and a heavy police presence.

Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams said one deputy was either stabbed or slashed in the neck and was taken to a hospital for treatment Saturday evening.

John Haughey

The Center Square

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