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Hundreds Turn Out for Saturday Protest in Fort Myers

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Meredith Nail
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Hundreds of protesters demonstrate outside FMPD headquarters in downtown Fort Myers Saturday afternoon

As demonstrations continue throughout the nation, about 200 protesters gathered again in downtown Fort Myers Saturday afternoon for a peaceful demonstration against police brutality, racial injustice and racial profiling.

Protest organizer George Torres, of Lehigh Acres, lead the chanting as about 150 people marched from Roberto Clemente Park in the city’s historically lack Dunbar community to the Fort Myers Police Department headquarters. Three FMPD officers walked with the demonstrators, but officers did not kneel with the crowd as they had done at Friday night’s demonstration. Bringing up the rear of the march was Torres’ 12-year-old son Uriel Torres pulling a heavy cooler full of water bottles.

Also bringing up the back of the march were Fort Myers residents Janet Lopez and Yvette Carrasco, who brought plastic bags with them.

“We’ve been out on a couple of previous protests, always peaceful, but we did notice that there were some masks or water bottles left behind so we figured today we’d just bring bags to pick that up,” said Lopez.

Saturday’s event marked the fifth protest in under a week for the two women. Carrasco carried a sign reading “No Justice, No Peace” on one side and “Tu lucha es mi lucha” on the other side, meaning “My fight is your fight,” in Spanish.

Lopez said the protests she’s attended have been peaceful overall. “Yesterday there was a little bit of tension, but we kept going,” said Lopez.

“There’s some agitators, some people driving around with Trump flags and Confederate flags trying to agitate the crowd, but for the most part we just keep going and ignore them and keep going which is great.”

Lopez said she thought the officers kneeling with demonstrators Friday night was great, but that they may have still missed the point.

“Before the kneeling, I heard one officer say, ‘So, if we kneel will you turn around?’ kind of like as an ultimatum. If I do this, will you do that? And that’s not what it’s about,” said Lopez.”

“It’s just ‘Join us just to do it, like endorsing the cause and knowing what it’s for.”

At the end of the march, protestors lined the sidewalk on both sides of Widman Way in front of the FMPD headquarters. That’s when organizers began handing over megaphones to the demonstrators to share their own affirmations, stories and concerns involving racial injustice. Those who spoke ranged in age from people in their 60s to teenagers as young as 14.

Before handing over his megaphone, march organizer George Torres talked about the importance of voting in bringing about change.

“I can’t vote yet; Yet!” said Torres. “But you’d best believe I’ll be taking my first steps because George Floyd had me connect with an individual that can show me the first steps. So, whatever it is that you’ve got to do to get to the voting office or learn how to vote or whatever it is; You’ve got to take bus, ride a bicycle, a skate board, take an uber, do it!”

Among the protesters was Fort Myers resident Ariel Boston. She said she’s hopeful that if enough people support the demonstrations then eventually positive change will occur, but she had a message for those who say they don’t understand why the demonstrations continue.

“Sometimes you just have to put yourself in the other person’s shoes. A lot of people aren’t ignorant, they just don’t understand,” said Boston.

“They just don’t know because they haven’t experienced it themselves and that’s probably the problem for the most part. But if they educate themselves, I think a lot of people would support more.”

Boston, a black woman, said experiencing racism is just part of daily life for people who look like her. “You could walk past someone and they grab their purse. You know, just simple things, but when you know, you notice it,” said Boston. “It happens all the time. Honestly, my mom taught us to overlook it because everyone was not taught.”

As the demonstration continued in front of the police station, the crowd of protesters grew to about 200 people before making its way to a second protest organized by Cypress Lake High School students from Centennial Park to the median on Monroe Street where a bust of Confederate General and county namesake Robert. E. Lee has stood since 1966. The Sons of Confederate Veterans removed the bust last week amid concerns about possible vandalism to the statue.

The Cypress Lake High School students collected signatures for a petition seeking to have the memorial permanently removed.

Demonstrators spilled from the median onto the roadway and laid on the ground in the arrest position for about 9 minutes, marking the approximate amount of time former Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneeled on the throat and body of George Floyd, killing him.

Chauvin was initially charged with third-degree murder, but those charges were increased, Wednesday, to the more serious charge of second-degree murder. Three other officers face charges of aiding and abetting second-degree murder and aiding and abetting second-degree manslaughter in Floyd’s death.