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Tallahassee, FL: Man wielding gun disrupts Kenosha uprising solidarity rally

By Ezekiel Greenwood and Satya Stark-Bejnar |
August 31, 2020
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Tallahassee rally in solidarity with Kenosha.
Tallahassee rally in solidarity with Kenosha. (photo credit: Dawn Orocio)

The Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC) and partner organizations took to the streets the evening of August 29 in solidarity with Kenosha, Wisconsin to demand justice for Jacob Blake; justice for the recent Tallahassee police murders of Mychael Johnson, Wilbon Woodard and Tony McDade; and community control of the Tallahassee Police Department.

The action started off well, although under threat of thunderstorms, as a diverse crowd of 150 masked attendees, medics and safety marshals adorned caravan vehicles with messages including “Solidarity with Kenosha,” “Justice for all victims of police crimes” and “Community Control of the Police - CPAC now,” and received instructions for participating in the combination foot march, car caravan and street rally.

The foot march to the Historic Capitol featured giant banners, homemade signs and chants led on amplified sound. People on foot were followed protectively by a coordinated car caravan designed to shield protesters from the police and other alt-right elements, and to readily offer water, medical aid, and AC relief to anyone in need of respite from the Florida heat.

Protesters marched for blocks, then took and held the entire intersection of S. Monroe Street and Apalachee Parkway in front of the Historic Capitol where they held an hour-long rally in the center of the intersection with car caravan drivers parked in a giant circle around them. Several organization representatives including TCAC president Regina Joseph gave speeches and led chants condemning racist policing and in support of community control of police through an elected civilian police accountability council.

It was during this time that three people waving Trump flags and brandishing a megaphone arrived on a far sidewalk to counter-protest. Despite attempting to interrupt rally speakers with their megaphone, they were largely ignored and eventually left.

After the counter-protesters had vacated, a solitary white man in a white plaid shirt and brown hat was seen talking to and shaking hands with the police, and also making his way around the car caravan circle, apparently filming and/or photographing license plates. Neon-vested safety marshals swiftly coordinated the successful departure of a caravan vehicle driven by a parent with their young child. Shortly thereafter, the suspicious character attempted entry to the rally area. A small group of protesters approached him and asked him to leave; he became violent, initiating a shoving match and punching at a woman attendee in the face. Another attendee intervened and the two fell to the ground. The reactionary drew a gun. All protesters backed off, but the man assumed a stance and took aim at numerous surrounding protesters, even pointing his gun at a nearby police officer.

Protesters fled, some hiding behind cars or behind bushes and buildings, fearing for their lives. Protesters pointing at the reactionary, yelled to one of the police officers closing in on the scene, “That man has a gun!” The officer ignored them and instead began shoving other protesters.

Another officer pulled out what appeared to be a taser and apprehended the gunman, without any roughness. Then police immediately announced over loudspeaker, “This has been declared an unlawful assembly,” and told protesters to clear out or face arrest and the use of “necessary force,” explicitly threatening “severe injury.” Police officers were seen pointing tear gas weapons at some of the straggling protesters who were doing their best to leave as quickly as possible without leaving anyone behind.

As protesters reconvened back at the launch-point parking lot to debrief, it was rumored that the gunman had been arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Later, however, when the daily arrest logs were checked, no record was found. This was confirmed the next day when the Tallahassee Police Department released a statement saying the gunman was not and will not be charged, blatantly mischaracterizing the altercation, and emphasizing that the protest was not officially permitted.

The sudden permit-obsession was particularly curious, given that TPD had allowed these same ‘non-permitted’ protesters to take the streets and hold that same major intersection half a dozen times this summer already, and for over an hour on this occasion, even redirecting all other traffic a block or more away in every direction, only ever referencing permits the day after this armed agitator violently disrupted an otherwise peaceful, well-organized protest.

Overnight, and on a weekend nonetheless, TPD declared that enough relevant video had been reviewed by their own investigators and the state attorney’s office to conclude that the gunman was “lawfully defending himself” and that “based on the totality of evidence, no assault charges have been applied.”

By releasing a statement blaming peaceful protesters for the actions of a solitary armed white man who set out to cause terror, the TPD has doubled down on its precedent of police permissiveness toward white supremacist violence in Tallahassee. During the wave of spontaneous local protests after the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Minnesota and the Tallahassee police murder of Tony McDade only days later, multiple trucks ran through crowds of protesters on separate occasions and those drivers faced no consequences.

Here and elsewhere, this persistent lack of consequences will only embolden white supremacists to escalate their violence, evidenced by the recent case of Kyle Rittenhouse, the 17-year-old who shot three protesters, in Kenosha, killing two. Every refusal by the police to take action against these violent white supremacists shows like-minded racists that not only will they face minimal (if any) consequences for murder and attempted murder, but that they will be legitimized by law enforcement and lauded as a hero by other racists.

“We must continue to fight by organizing - continuing to plan and strategize for Black liberation and the destruction of racist capitalism that treats the multinational working class as disposable,” declared TCAC President Regina Joseph. “We aren’t out here because it’s fun; we’re out here because we must be. And when the city commission reconvenes, we’ll be there again as well, demanding community control of the police and real meaningful change, for three minutes each if they restore public comment, and in the streets for hours if they don’t.”

The Tallahassee Community Action Committee is circulating an Action Network email to local law enforcement and city government to demand transparency and accountability. The Action Network email can be found at tallycac.com and on TCAC’s social media. TCAC is also raising funds to purchase protective equipment and invest in additional safety and self-defense training for marshals and members. Donations can be made to paypal.me/TallyCAC. A portion of proceeds raised will go to the refounded National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (NAARPR), of which TCAC is an affiliate organization.

Ezekiel Greenwood (they/he) and Satya Stark-Bejnar (they/he) are activists in Tallahassee, FL.