It started as a peaceful march to the capital. Volunteers in orange vests guided the crowd and medics walked alongside protesters in case of injury.
“The energy felt really [good],” said an anonymous protester to Spire magazine, an FSU student and a witness to yesterday’s events. “We were even singing together.”
“A lot of us were really happy and the mood had been very nice because all of these groups were so excited to be working together and thanking each other for our hard work,” they told Spire Magazine.
For protesters, the atmosphere was peaceful and passionate as community members rallied against police brutality following recent incidents in Kenosha, Wisconsin. The demonstration was protected by a perimeter of cars to try and prevent any hit and run incidents and keep protesters safe. At a Black Lives Matter protest in May, a Tallahassee driver drove through the crowd, injuring several. Organizers of yesterday’s protest were determined to take every precaution necessary to ensure safety, but things didn’t go as planned.
A yet to be named counter-protester escalated the rally to potential violence when he pulled a gun on the crowd after shoving and punching another protester. Our witness watched the events unfold first hand.
“I was live-streaming in the middle of the crowd when I see this man approach the perimeter with a camera. I see several of our people with orange vests approach him, including my boyfriend. He’s taking pictures of people’s license plates,” they said. “[Protesters] are all asking him to leave and stop taking pictures of protesters’ license plates. He’s arguing and walking away from them as he continues to take pictures.”
That was when a protester, whose name will also be withheld from this article, yelled at the man directly. He turns around and punches her. Her boyfriend, whose name will also be withheld, then physically confronts the man who had just assaulted his girlfriend. This incident was caught on video below:
Here’s a video of #TrumpViolence in Tallahassee as a psycho enters our protest and hits my GIRLFRIEND – he gets the hands put to him and pulls a gun like he didn’t expect it. Arm yourselves. Tallahassee too strong for that. #BlackLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/D7I6Am8ViT
— Skid | #BLM | #FreePalestine (@skidpapi) August 30, 2020
As seen on video, a fight ensues between the two until the counter-protester pulls out a gun.
“Immediately once he pulled out the gun, half of us started running and half of the people just dropped to the ground and put their hands up. At this point, I stopped live-streaming and was running away. I turned around for a second to see if the man with the gun had been apprehended and I see him pointing it at people and screaming,” shared the witness. In the footage and photographs of the incident, their terror seemed to echo throughout the crowd as hordes of protesters fled for their lives. Screams are painfully audible in each video of the incident.
Another eyewitness at the protest, Madeline Kopka, was standing behind the gunman when he was tackled by a police officer. She described the moments before his apprehension as “he pulled his gun out and started waving it and everyone started running and screaming.” The atmosphere immediately turned to what Kopka described as “hectic.”
A Tallahassee Police Officer did apprehend the counter-protester after he brandished the weapon for a few moments and took him away, but it is still not immediately clear whether the suspect has been officially arrested or charged. TPD has not released any statement as of now at the time of this article.
While an officer subdued the gunman before any shots were fired, many protesters are upset about the actions of the Tallahassee Police Department — after all, that’s part of why they’re demonstrating in the first place. The TPD has fatally shot multiple Black men in the past year.
Our witness tells us they tried to alert a police officer to the situation and was ignored entirely. “I stop and I see a police officer running like right next to me. I stop and yell ‘that man has a gun!’ and point at [the gunman]. The police officer fully ignores me, does not even make eye contact with me, and I see him run right past me and push a nearby protester. Protesters had been running and pushing for their lives to get out of the way.”
They say that’s the part that impacted them the most. They pointed at an armed man brandishing a weapon as people knelt on the ground in front of him, but was “fully ignored and this cop thought it was more useful to push people.”
The Tallahassee Police Department is also being criticized for allowing an armed man to walk so easily into the perimeter. The man was seen talking to police officers before the incident and, according to other witnesses, shaking hands with some. This reminded many protesters of what preceded the recent shooting in Kenosha, where an armed vigilante chatted with police officers and was even thanked by them, before later opening fire on a crowd.
The witness expressed their disappointment in how the threat of violence seems to prevail no matter how prepared you are. “All of these were precautions we took and I think it goes to show sometimes you can do everything right and something, or in this case someone, will still slip through.”