Tampa Police pepper sprayed and arrested Black Lives Matter protesters on the Fourth of July


Creative Loafing Tampa Bay is still waiting on a response to its Saturday afternoon email to Tampa Police Media Relations officials, but reports of nine arrests and seven detentions are floating around after Fourth of July Black Lives Matter demonstrations on N. Dale Mabry Highway.

Three CL photographers—Chandler Culotta, Dave Decker and Ashley Dieudonne—said a group of peaceful protesters, who met at a nearby Walmart parking lot, marched north past Spruce Street, blocking traffic along the way. Police then issued a robo voice warning to disperse. Soon after (1:28 p.m., according to a statement sent by TPD to the Tampa Bay Times), arrests were made just before pepper O.C. pepper spray.

As Times criminal justice and public safety reporter Kathryn Varn points out to those saying that blocking roads is not peaceful: “what's legal and what's peaceful are not the same thing. Might I direct you to the definition of ‘civil disobedience.’"

Varn also observed a man in a gray shirt, with no uniform, running from the group and into one of a TPD cruiser.

“Typically when officers wear plain clothes, they’re undercover. Not sure why or how long he was in the crowd,” Varn wrote. One woman replied to Varn by posting a picture of a man in a gray shirt sitting inside of a cruiser.

Varn, who spent all of Saturday covering protests, captured several videos from the Tampa incident, including some of protesters saying they would die for the cause, and others showing some of the arrests TPD described in a news release (and seen in CL pics like this).

CL photographers said that protests had been peaceful up until the moment of the arrests and when pepper spray was deployed. Video from Varn seems to confirm the peaceful nature of the march.  

CL photographers Ashley Dieudonne and Chandler Culotta followed the protest to downtown Tampa where demonstrators occupied Gaslight Park where they were rejoined by protesters like 22-year-old Ahmed Osman.

One protester, 21-year-old J’Khari Wilson, who the Times said “faces a felony charge of criminal mischief resulting in damage of $1,000 or more and misdemeanor charges of resisting arrest without violence and violating city ordinance 14-41” disputed the police’s version of events and said there’s video evidence to back up his claim.

“I got charged by the officer while I was backing up and fearing for my life,” Wilson told the Times. “He pushed me into the car and video evidence shows that.”

As CL reported this week, TPD has increased the use of pepper spray and tear gas by 223% under Chief Dugan despite known health risks.

According to Tampa Police spokesman Eddy Durkin, the 223% increase in chemical agent use is almost entirely pepper spray. Not all yearly reports show the entire breakdown, but in the 2019 report, 80% are documented as oleoresin capsicum (pepper spray), 14% were a mixed spray between oleoresin capsicum (OC) and chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS), and 6% were recorded as chlorobenzylidene malononitrile spray, which we should also mention is the main component in tear gas.

If you were arrested, pepper sprayed or assaulted at this protest or have video to share please email [email protected].

CL looks forward to getting a chance to continue to #TellTheWholeStory as soon as even more details become available. —Ray Roa

UPDATED: 07/05/20 12 p.m. Updated with photos from Gaslight Park and additional reporting made available after initial post.

[Editor's note: Included in photos of the Gaslight occupation are shots of a man in an orange shirt. The photos were taken by Ashley Dieudonne, who said this about the individual: The guy just popped up out of nowhere and stood still on the corner mad-doggin the whole space. A couple people, myself included, walked over to assess him. He was just staring down people, swaying back & forth and rubbing or clapping his hands occasionally. Basically acting like someone who either is a cop and has snapped, or has always really wanted to be a cop... and snapped. I asked him if he was alright, and he just kinda twitched affirmatively. I offered to get him a water, or if he needed water, and he told me "I don't know". Okay, weirdo. Some more people came over, and said this is a peaceful protest and that there wouldn't be any violence here if that's what he was looking for. He occasionally would make vague comments about wanting violence, stare down women, and at times try to take a step towards people (non-aggressively, but definitely looking to close the space and instigate). The crowd started some chants aimed at him, he made up his own nonsensical chants back, and was eventually ignored and left by himself. After 15 minutes or so, he left the area. I tailed him all the way across downtown, partially in my car, to the Hart bus station. He sat on a bench, and when I circled back about 10 minutes later, he was gone. I talked to Hart security officers, one of whom recognized him from the past few days, and asked that they contact me if they see him again.]

07/04/2020 | Photos by Chander Culotta, Dave Decker and Ashley Dieudonne