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City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox Calls For County Curfew

Dianne Williams-Cox sits on brick starts in front of a home with a door.
City of Tallahassee
Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox is calling for a county-wide curfew to crack down on large gatherings.

After a gathering of more than 300 people in Tallahassee this weekend left one attendee dead and raised concerns about the safety of large groups during the coronavirus pandemic, one city commissioner says it’s time to consider a curfew again.

Gov. Ron DeSantis’s emergency order discourages groups of more than 50 people. However, Leon County Commission Chair Bryan Desloge says it reads more like a suggestion than a requirement:

“I can tell you it is a problem for law enforcement right now. It’s not a black and white area, and it’s hard for some of the officers to try and get their arms around it.”

Desloge says the easiest way to give law enforcement the ability to disperse crowds is for businesses to put up no loitering or trespassing signs. Then, if someone violates that, owners can call the police. But Mayor Pro Tem Dianne Williams-Cox doesn’t think that goes far enough. She says it might be time for local governments to take action:

“Well, obviously, if people are not paying attention to the governor’s order, they’re not paying attention to signs. I think what people will really pay attention to is the fact that in the past, we’ve had a curfew.”

Williams-Cox says a curfew could cut down on large gatherings like the one Saturday morning, outside the Rattler Gas Station. It ended with the death of a 16-year-old. Williams-Cox says the business owner knew people habitually gathered outside the gas station but did nothing to stop it:

“If the property owners are not willing to help us by keeping these crowds from gathering, then we need to provide some opportunity for law enforcement to be able to do what they need to do to help us flatten this curve on the spread of this virus.”

Williams-Cox, who serves on the city commission, wrote a letter to Desloge, who leads the county commission, asking him to consider passing a curfew again. The county has put curfews in place several times since declaring a state of emergency in March for the COVID-19 pandemic. But Desloge says right now he doesn’t see a justification for it:

“For the first time, we did it from a COVID—from a virus spread standpoint because we felt like there were house parties in a lot of the campus areas, and so that was our justification. The second time it was during the protests, and it was civil unrest. So just having a crowd in a gas station or a convenience store doesn’t justify civil unrest, and I’m not sure we’re at the level where you could argue that it’s a virus concern.”

Desloge says if data begins to show large crowds are hiking up coronavirus cases, then the commission might consider a curfew. If the city wants to pass a curfew, it can, but the rule would only apply within Tallahassee city limits. Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox says that’s not ideal, but she might bring it up with her colleagues:

“It is not the desired course of action to go with just the city because that pushes the problem to the county, and I’m not interested in pushing the problems to somewhere else. I’m interested in trying to fix the problem and not push it off. So yeah, we will have those conversations. We will have those conversations to determine if we need to go forward without the county, but that is definitely not my preference.”

Over the weekend, Leon County saw more than 200 new cases of the coronavirus reported by The Florida Department of Health.