On Saturday, September 5, the Leon Grand Jury acquitted the police officers involved in the shootings of Tony McDade, Mychael Johnson, and Wilbon Woodard — three black men killed by Tallahassee police earlier this year. Twenty-four hours after the verdict was released, local organizers including Tallahassee Community Action Committee (TCAC), Dream Defenders, and More Than A Name held a protest on Saturday, September 8 to protest the acquittals and call for community control of the Tallahassee Police Department.
In front of the capitol, officers of TPD and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office took violently escalatory actions towards the protesters. Videos posted on social media by attendees of the protest show the police manhandling protesters as they sit peacefully on the sidewalk, armed officers in riot gear boxing in protesters that they vastly outnumber. Ultimately, police arrested 15 people, including TCAC President Regina Joseph and former Tallahassee City Commission Candidate Trish Brown. Three of those arrested had to be hospitalized for injuries.
“Everything began pretty peacefully,” said one of the protest’s organizers whose name will be withheld. “To keep everybody safe, we had safety marshals, medics. A lot of planning went into this and a lot of organizers had been planning this for several days.” Protesters met in a parking lot on South Bronough Street, where organizers and activists addressed the crowd, laying down protest etiquette and making impassioned calls for community control of the police.
Led by members of TCAC, protesters marched to Florida’s historic state capitol, taking to the streets and then moving to the sidewalk after a warning from the Tallahassee police. The protesters on foot were accompanied by a car caravan. “We were almost there, not very far from the capitol, and Trish Brown, who was leading the car caravan protest… got pulled over,” they said.
The police pulled Brown over on South Monroe street, across from the capitol and informed her that they were going to give her a traffic ticket for driving below the speed limit. “At least two of our organizers were like ‘okay, go ahead and give her the ticket so we can be on our way’ and the police said no, that they wanted to give her the ticket away from the protest on a different street, pretty far away from where we would be, separately, away from the public,” they said. “A lot of organizers felt that this was not safe, you know, why do they need to arrest her for a traffic stop? Why do they need to do that away from the general public if they have nothing to hide? So people started saying just give her the ticket, then people started chanting ‘let her go’ because they were attempting to arrest her at this point. They refused to give her the ticket in front of protesters, and that was when they attempted to take her out of the car and arrest her.”
After the police forcibly removed Brown from her car, they moved in on the protesters standing closest to the street. Anticipating that that the police would attempt to arrest them, protesters linked arms and sat on the sidewalk, forming a human chain. “The police were clearly attempting to arrest people at this point and our strategy is to link arms and sit on the ground so they won’t grab people, separate them from everyone else and arrest them,” said Beron.
“I see this police officer, just go for right in the middle of this chain of people and just start to go for whoever he can grab out and arrest them. He got a lot of people and I’m just watching all this unfold. He’s pushing them, he punched this one young man several times. He was doing really everything he could to get people out of the chain, off of the sidewalk.”
As can be seen below, the officers beat, shoved, and dragged protesters, ignoring calls from one onlooker shouting, “Officer you’ll hurt her! Officer you’ll hurt her! Officer you’ll hurt her!”
TW:// Police Violence TALLAHASSEE: Watch as how law enforcement brutalizes people in a completely legal and peaceful protest in Tallahassee. It is legal to protest on the sidewalk. We were sitting down, linking arms as they violently tried to rip us apart and arrest us. Pinning whatever charge they could think of on us. But the videos don’t lie. We linked arms while chanting, crying, pleading the officers to let us stay and they continued to incite violence. Tallahassee is living in a police state. We no longer have our First Amendment Rights.Posted by Valentina Beron on Sunday, September 6, 2020
The protesters sitting on the sidewalk were not behaving with aggression towards the officers or breaking any laws, yet the police still began attempting to violently apprehend them. “All of the people there that were arrested were really just on the ground linking arms,” our witness said, “It didn’t really make any sense what [the police] were trying to do there besides just arrest people.” Live footage of the entire incident can be found on TCAC’s Instagram.
The organizer who spoke to us was near the very end of the chain on the edge of the sidewalk. An intercom mounted to a nearby police truck announced to protesters that TPD Chief Lawrence Revell had declared the assembly unlawful and ordered protesters to disperse or be forcibly removed.
“Once I saw that everybody around me had been arrested, I wasn’t going to stay there and wait to be arrested, so that was when I was trying to leave,” they told us. However, when they turned to leave, a police officer with a riot shield was blocking their path. “I say I need to go, I need to go, I need to go and he looks at me and he says ‘it’s too f***ing late’ and that was when I knew that they’re doing everything they can to arrest everybody here and they don’t really care what happens,” they said. “They’re playing on the intercom that we need to disperse, but they didn’t let me disperse.”
Another police officer made way for them, allowing them to escape, but not all of the protesters were so fortunate.
“The most impacting thing for me was them telling people to disperse, and then the cop not letting me go… I really don’t understand whatever protocol or ideas they have in place to de-escalate because everything they did was to escalate,” they said. “If they had simply just given her the ticket, she would have pulled over, stopped driving, gotten a ticket and we would have continued into the capitol… but no, they wanted to arrest her, they wanted to make an example out of her, and they wanted to make an example out of everyone else — that you’re not allowed to practice your first amendment rights here in Tallahassee any more if that means that you’re going to critique the police. “
Despite the organizers’ careful planning and peaceful behavior, the police treated them as a threat, acting with dehumanizing brutality. Striking photos from attendees and news outlets show hundreds of TPD officers, many of them in full riot gear converging on a small crowd of unarmed civilian protesters.
“I really feel that all of this was completely excessive. It was frightening and it was pretty terrifying to see this happen once again here in Tallahassee,” the witness said. “A lot of activists and organizers don’t really know where to go from here.”