Protesters, supporters greet Pence and DeSantis in downtown Tampa


Two small and distinct crowds gathered outside of USF Health’s Center for Advanced Medical Learning and Simulation on Thursday, June 2, where Governor Ron DeSantis and Vice President Mike Pence met to discuss the state’s efforts to combat COVID-19. 

This event followed a Thursday report that Florida added 10,000 new COVID-19 cases—topping previous single-day records. 

One group standing outside the massive building in Florida’s sweltering heat donned Make America Great Again merchandise, holding Trump-Pence 2020 campaign posters. Members of the group declined to make a comment to Creative Loafing Tampa Bay regarding their presence. The majority of this group were not wearing face-masks.

The other group in attendance, small but mighty in its volume and energy, held signs demonstrating support for the local Black Lives Matter Movement and references to the tens of thousands of people infected with COVID-19 across the state. This group stood outside to protest the presence of Pence, whose January rally in New Tampa was similarly met by protesters.

One of the people protesting Pence’s presence in Tampa on Thursday was self-identified anarchist, Todd Emantsal. 

“I see that Florida is being sacrificed to capital,” Emantsal told CL, regarding his decision to protest Pence’s visit. “They think they’re saving the economy, but we’re going to be in trouble.”

Emantsal described the risks that essential workers in the trade industries, retail, and others are required to face—sometimes with little, or inadequate, protection from the highly-contagious coronavirus. 

Fen, who works as a teacher and youth counselor, said they were there to take advantage of the opportunity to confront two powerful figures of authority. They consider Governor DeSantis and the vice president complicit in the violence perpetrated against Black and brown communities.

“This is not a summer thing,” Fen said, acknowledging the recent protests against police violence and systemic racism. “We’re going to keep on.”

Another protester, Kiara, who did not provide a last name, told CL she was struck by Tampa law enforcement with rubber bullets during a May 30 Black Lives Matter protest, similarly referred to the Black Lives Matter movement here locally. Kiara tied the leadership of DeSantis and Pence back to the demands being made by residents to protest racism and police violence. 

Later, as individuals in suits begin to exit the large USF Health building, the small group of protesters prematurely hummed Darth Vader’s theme (“The Imperial March”) through a megaphone, anticipating the VP, who did not leave the building at that time. They continued utilizing the megaphone, beginning now-familiar chants of, “No justice, no peace!” and “F*** Trump, no KKK, no racist Tampa Bay” and more. 

The anti-Pence protesters also chastised the law enforcement officers in the vicinity who were not wearing masks. From a distance, protesters call, Where are your masks? Wear a mask!”

The VP and governor did not step outside to greet their supporters, nor the group of protesters (although Pence did give his supporters the double-hand hello wave from inside of his armored Chevy transport vehicle). The USF Health building was surrounded by law enforcement vehicles, the Secret Service, and several black SUVs. Just after 4:30 p.m. the parade of black SUVs began to exit, signaling that the Vice President was on the move.

As this occurred, from one side of the sidewalk, there were shouts of, “Four more years!”. From the other side, protesters revived their Black Lives Matter chants. —McKenna Schueler

07/02/2020 | Photos by Dave Decker and Ashley Dieudonne