There’s nothing more American than civil disobedience

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On Tuesday, a rogue curb disagreed with my bicycle’s wheel, disrupted my inertia and sent me tumbling onto some Augusta block. Eight hours later, my body is scraped up and hurting in unfamiliar places. But my limbs are undoubtedly nowhere near as sore as the bodies, hearts and minds of the Tampa protesters who clashed with police officers on the Fourth of July after a peaceful demonstration blocked traffic at the intersection of Spruce Street and N. Dale Mabry Highway.

[Editor's note: These are additional photos from the July 4 incident, follow more protest photo coverage via photos.cltampa.com]

A Tampa Police Department release said people called to complain about traffic obstruction. Some protester signs say something to the effect of, “sorry for the inconvenience, we’re trying to change the world.” TPD added that dispersal orders were issued via an L-RAD system (basically a sound cannon for making announcements, or, in some cases to disperse crowds) before “officers identified organizers and leaders of the protest and made contact with them to effect the arrest(s) for violation of City Ordinance 14-41.” That part of city code says, “All persons are hereby prohibited from gathering and standing in groups upon the streets, avenues and sidewalks of the city in such a manner as to obstruct the free passage of persons or vehicles upon the sidewalks or streets of the city.”

J’Khari Wilson—a 21-year-old protester, former Plant City High School track athlete, and one of seven activists arrested by TPD—disputes the criminal mischief and resisting arrest without violence charges against him (“I got charged by the officer while I was backing up and fearing for my life. He pushed me into the car and video evidence shows that,” Wilson told the Tampa Bay Times).

Three days after the Tampa arrests, the St. Petersburg Police Department said it would start issuing warning flyers and then $62.50 tickets to those breaking obstructing traffic laws.

“Recent national incidents of vehicles striking protesters who were blocking roadways highlight the importance of following the law and staying clear of traffic,” a statement said, alluding to one person killed in Seattle, two injured in Bloomington and dozens of similar incidents that’ve happened across the U.S.

There are countless opinions saying protesters should just “obey the law.” The half-baked edicts usually come from the same people who tell country singers to “shut up and sing” (Charley Crockett, who we interviewed, respectfully thinks they should respectfully “shut up and listen”). They’re the same folks who want Creative Loafing Tampa Bay to stick to arts, food and events. CL’s contributors did that quite nicely in the July 9 issue, but we’re not going to become a brochure and stray away from stories like the one on our cover that cites internal TPD reports which show that the use of force under Police Chief Brian Dugan has increased 24% (pepper spray use is up 223%).

Protests which disrupt the flow of traffic are, in fact, illegal under city laws, but they’re far from unpeaceful. To watch young people fighting for justice—and literally walking towards physical danger in the name of equal rights—only to be met with pepper spray, force and civil citations is, as CL photographer Dave Decker told me, “emotionally exhausting.”

America is inarguably built on the backs of stolen people whose descendants still live unjust lives as a result. On July 4, Tampa—and the Bay area at large—draped itself in flags to celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence during the American Revolutionary War. But we also stood by and barbecued while modern revolutionaries put their lives on the line to demand a radical remaking of law enforcement in their cities so that “unalienable rights” are truly extended to everyone regardless of their skin color or economic status.

There’s nothing more American than civil disobedience. We should be celebrating, or at least protecting and supporting, those who practice it—not locking them up. —Ray Roa

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07/04/2020 | Photos by Dave Decker