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Tallahassee Protesters Released As Rep. Alexander Blasts Police Response

Law enforcement officers move in to arrest some of the march organizers after Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell declared the protest an "unlawful assembly."
Tom Flanigan
Law enforcement officers move in to arrest some of the march organizers after Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell declared the protest an "unlawful assembly."

Most of the 15 people who were arrested Saturday in a protest march at the capitol have been released. Now one lawmaker is questioning whether the police response to the group was warranted.

Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, released a statement condemning the city’s response to the approximately 130 protesters who walked to the capital Saturday following a grand jury’s findings that the use of force was justified in three officer-involved shootings this year.

The Tallahassee Community Action Committee helped organize the event. Two of its leaders, President Regina Joseph and co-founder Trish Brown, were among those arrested and later released.

Alexander says in his opinion, “our local law enforcement agencies’ response was clearly disproportionate to the actual situation to our local authorities. The riot gear and massive show of force were unnecessary to the roughly 100 protesters. There were no attempts to damage property, no looting and no acts of physical violence displayed during yesterday’s events.

Alexander says the protest organizers should have secured a permit but, “let me be very clear. This should not be about picking sides, but entirely about our community striving together to be the best that we actually can be.”

Ahead of the march, officers with the Tallahassee Police Department approached Brown and Joseph asking them to remain on the sidewalk. The officers said verbal warnings would be given and reiterated that they were trying to maintain public safety.

TPD had also announced they would be enforcing traffic laws during such events.

Saturday, protesters veered into the street, then returned to the sidewalks after warnings. In response to the arrests, Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power said on twitter, "Good job @TallyPD enforce the law for all."

During the walk to the capital, a car drove beside marchers. It was pulled over for what the Tallahassee Police Department said in a statement was pulled over for “impeding the normal flow of traffic.”

As officers tried to ticket the driver, TCAC President Regina Joseph began questioning the move. The crowd then turned to chant at the officers and the situation escalated, culminating in arrests and some people moved to sit down and form human chains to prevent officers from arresting others.

The march was declared an "unlawful assembly" by Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell.

Most of the protesters, including Joseph and Brown, were later released. Charges include resisting arrest without violence, unlawful assembly and disorderly conduct. Most of the people face at least one charge.

According to the ACLU, permits are not usually required to protest. However, there are conditions, such as marches and parades that don’t stay on the sidewalk or require blocking traffic and closures.

Last weekend, a march to the capitol blocked traffic at the intersection of Apalachee Parkway and Monroe Street. A counter-protester entered the crowd and drew a gun, prompting people to flee. The incident is under investigation by the state attorney’s office. It led to a county-wide curfew being imposed.

Many permit procedures require that the application be filed several weeks in advance of the event. However, the First Amendment prohibits such an advance notice requirement from being used to prevent rallies or demonstrations that are rapid responses to unforeseeable and recent events. Also, many permit ordinances give a lot of discretion to the police or city officials to impose conditions on the event, such as the route of a march or the sound levels of amplification equipment. Such restrictions may violate the First Amendment if they are unnecessary for traffic control or public safety, or if they interfere significantly with effective communication with the intended audience. A permit cannot be denied because the event is controversial or will express unpopular views,” the ACLU writes.

During previous marches held throughout the summer, protesters did not stick to sidewalks, didn’t request any permits, and often ended up in the streets. In May, a pickup truck drove through protesters as they walked in the street. The State Attorney’s Office later said the truck was trying to escape after people began surrounding it in response to the driver revving his engine at the crowd in an attempt to get them to move.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas.  She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. 

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