Photos show tense exchange between diners and St. Petersburg protesters

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On Wednesday, Sept. 23, after a grand jury decided not to charge the police officers who murdered Breonna Taylor, protesters marched down Beach Drive NE in St. Petersburg.

A video posted to Twitter by Tampa Bay Times reporter Josh Fiallo shows a tense exchange between demonstrators and diners. The video is uncomfortable to watch, but as some have been quick to chide the protesters, others have posted pictures claiming that the diners antagonized the protesters ahead of the exchange.

The clip even drew the attention of St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and Republican congressional candidate Anna Paulina Luna (the still-unverified-on-Twitter gun nut trails the incumbent Democrat Charlie Crist by 16 points) who says one of the diners, “Ken” contacted her about the exchange.

Daniel Figueroa IV, a former Tampa Bay Times reporter who now works in the news department at WMNF 88.5-FM, also lamented the viral reaction to Fiallo's tweet, which has been naturally co-opted by right-wing parties who'd like to wholesale paint the protest movement and response to the Breonna Taylor verdict as a violent overreaction.

"The worst part about it is that the original video was posted by a reporter who could’ve easily asked a few questions to provide context. Like the fact that the couple shouted racial and anti-Semitic slurs at the protestors as they marched down, then back up Beach Drive," Figueroa wrote. "So when you see the Jewish man blowing a 'horn,' at the diners (as other outlets have reported) it’s actually a rabbi blowing a religious instrument called a shofar after being repeatedly called a 'k*ke.'"

It's important to note that while he's dutifully been at numerous protests, Fiallo is easily one of the youngest reporters in the Times newsroom (although he probably has more bylines than reporters who've been there as long or longer). And Fiallo likely volunteered himself since the Times—which still had 100 journalists last time CL talked to the paper's CEO and Chairman Paul Tash—has noticeably backed off protest coverage after a spat with protesters led to one editor deleting a string of tweets.

(Interestingly, the deleted tweets came around the same time that Times staffers—specifically Executive Editor Katches, Deputy Editor of Photography Boyzell Hosey, plus Senior Deputy Editors Amy Hollyfield and Carolyn Fox, and Maria Carrillo—had a Zoom meeting/call with local Black Lives Matters leaders to discuss the Times' coverage of protests. In an email to CL, Katches wrote, "[The meeting] was off the record and at our invitation. We’ve also talked with law enforcement leaders as part of a listening effort and as a way to engage with our communities and hear from various stakeholders. We intend to reach out to other groups soon on other topics. It’s incredibly valuable to connect with readers and newsmakers.")

In response to Figueroa, Fiallo said, "I was there that night — just like I have been at dozens of other protests. Protesters didn’t swarm the table of other diners that gave them the bird before this — and there were multiple, like this video. I was right there and didn’t hear any slurs, so I tweeted what I saw."

In response to one user who lobbed more criticism at the reporter, Fiallo wrote that he was working to "to make phone calls and to have time to report beyond just watching/taking a video."

Videos like this happen at protests, and often times context gets left out of social media posts made on the fly during a protest, but a headline like, "Demonstrators vs. diners: St. Petersburg encounter goes viral" is unfair to readers who we all know often read just headlines. The headline is unfair to Fiallo who put himself out there to try and cover that night's protest. And it's unfair to the protesters who haven't engaged with diners who flip them the bird.

—Ray Roa

UPDATED: 09/25/20 12 p.m. Updated with responses to Fiallo's viral Twitter video.

09/23/2020 | Photos by Dave Decker