Tampa Police arrest two protesters after car collision in SOHO

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Two protesters were arrested by Tampa police on Tuesday night after vehicles collided on Howard Avenue.

Creative Loafing Tampa Bay photographer Dave Decker said the collision happened during a protest which started around 6 p.m. when approximately two dozen activists gathered at a nearby Winn-Dixie parking. Video shows the group making its way west on Swann Avenue then north on Howard Avenue, blocking both lanes of traffic along the way.

Blocking traffic, while illegal, is a common tactic of non-violent demonstrators working to bring attention to their causes. In Tuesday’s case, protesters were marching against Tampa Mayor Jane Castor’s proposed budget increase for the Tampa Police Department. Protesters have long used non-violent, but disruptive, tactics to create meaningful social change; there are even local monuments honoring a disruptive 1960 sit-in at a downtown Tampa Woolworth, which helped usher in desegregation.

On Tuesday marchers walked down Howard Avenue saying, “A mild inconvenience is better than a Black life lost.” In front and behind the group were protest-affiliated cars blocking traffic and creating a buffer between the group on foot and non-protest vehicular traffic. As northbound traffic began to back up, a car horn startled protesters, and video shows a Jeep with a Blue Lives Matter magnet on the tailgate. In a media alert sent out Tuesday night police say the Jeep “attempted to go around the crowd on the sidewalk.” (Here’s a police Twitter post about the incident.)

In the video, protesters can be seen calmly blocking the Jeep—at this point blocked in by a white Kia and blue Volkswagen—from driving through the protest. Protesters then encourage the Jeep to back up and make a U-turn like some other vehicles did. But the driver of the Jeep, at this point blocked in by an additional blue Ford truck attempting to protect protesters, started inching forward towards a protester who explained that they are “trying to prevent people from getting hurt.”

“We’re all trying to help you out, back up,” one protester can be heard saying to the driver of the Jeep who is seen wearing a white jacket with CVS markings.

The Jeep then started to back up as security staff from a nearby bar attempted to get the driver to turn around (“Y’all are good, y’all do your thing” the security guard can be heard saying to protesters.) Soon after that, a gray Ford truck is seen and then heard peeling out and moving north on Howard through a stretch of empty road created as the rest of the protest group marched north. The blue Ford truck, which was with protesters, followed the gray truck. The driver of the Jeep then accelerated forward, narrowly missing protesters before being forced to come to a stop at the corner of Azeele Street and Howard Avenue. One protester tells the driver of the Jeep that she almost hit her.

In 911 calls shared with CL, the driver of the Jeep told dispatchers, "If I have to, I'm going to run over them."

The police media alert says that “As the Jeep drove forward, the driver in the Kia intentionally hit the side of the Jeep.” The driver of the Kia—identified in a Wednesday update from TPD as T Munoz—may have been attempting to protect protesters from being hit by the Jeep. The other protester arrested, Dezeray Rubinchik, is charged with resisting officers without violence.

To date, drivers in this part of South Tampa have hit protesters at least three times. In a Trump Facebook group post about Tuesday’s incidents, commenters encouraged group members to run protesters over and even “shoot em.”

Unmarked police cars then arrived at the scene, and the police media alert said, “The driver in the Kia was taken into custody for aggravated battery with a deadly weapon. A second person was arrested for obstructing the investigation.”

Protesters can be heard asking if police will also take the driver of the Jeep into custody

“Updates will be provided as they become available. The investigation is ongoing,” the police media alert added. Police officials have not responded to CL’s email inquiry about the arrests.

Numerous protests have occurred in Tampa in the aftermath of of the murder of George Floyd. Protesters allege that Tampa Police have regularly targeted protest leaders and arrested protesters as an intimidation tactic. The State Attorney has since dropped many charges against protesters, citing a lack of evidence. That didn’t stop some of the protesters who were arrested from being beat up and groped in jail. —Ray Roa

UPDATED: 09/16/20 8:35 p.m. Updated after TPD released names of protesters charged. Added comments made during 911 calls and changed a deadname.

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09/15/2020 | Photos by Dave Decker