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Police Break Up Black Lives Matter March In Tallahassee; TCAC Leaders Arrested

Law enforcement officers move in to arrest some of the march organizers after Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell declared the protest an "unlawful assembly."
Tom Flanigan
Law enforcement officers move in to arrest some of the march organizers after Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell declared the protest an "unlawful assembly."

What began as a peaceful march of about 130 people from the corner of Bronough and Gaines streets to the Florida Capitol on Saturday quickly ended with several of the marchers in police custody and the demonstration disrupted.

Tallahassee Police had earlier cautioned the event's organizers to stay on sidewalks and not to disrupt vehicle traffic. The agency had previously announced it was changing tactics to focus on traffic violations during protests.

Upon reaching Gaines Street, some marchers took to the pavement. Police announced over a patrol vehicle loud speaker the event would be halted if participants didn't return to the sidewalk. By the time the march approached the Capitol on Monroe Street, dozens of law enforcers were converging and the police loudspeaker was blaring that Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell had determined the march to be an "unlawful assembly" and those not dispersing would be subject to arrest.

The march, organized by several activist groups, was to protest Friday's Leon Circuit Court grand jury presentments, which found the use of force in three, separate, fatal officer-involved shootings this year, was justified.

One of those groups, The Tallahassee Community Action Committee, has confirmed three of its leaders, including TCAC President Regina Joseph and co-founder Trish Brown, were among those arrested.

TCAC says three other people were hospitalized.

The organization has been at the front of several recent local protests regarding police use of force and social justice issues.

The Tallahassee Police Department says it stopped the car Brown was driving for "impeding the normal flow of traffic on South Monroe Street."

"During the traffic stop, the driver did not comply with law enforcement instructions," the agency said in a statement sent hours after the arrests.

"As the individual was being placed under arrest, several members of the crowd attempted to interfere. They were given commands by law enforcement and did not comply. As officers then moved in to arrest those interfering, other crowd members blocked the officers’ efforts, including striking officers."

TPD says 15 people were arrested. A video posted to social media by TCAC shows the confrontation as officers speak to the people inside the car, and marchers begin to confront them and chant "'Black Lives Matter', 'No! No! No!' and 'Let Her Go!'"

The group is ordered to back up from the car as some of the marchers film the encounter.

As officers move to arrest the people in the car, the situation escalates, with some people sitting down as officers begin arrests, carrying off some by their hands and feet pulling others off the ground while the crowd shouts and screams.

TPD officers approached members of TCAC ahead of the march as they gathered in a nearby parking lot. An officer told the group not to block traffic and to remain on the sidewalk. Joseph asked whether the group would be given warnings, and the officer said they would be verbal.

A weary Brown expressed dismay over how she felt local law enforcement had portrayed her organization as instigators.

"We have been practicing peaceful protesting for months, and we’re not here to promote violence or hurt anyone. We’re just calling and responding on the things we want done in our community.”

Some members drove to the Leon County Jail to await the release of those arrested.

As the march was underway, a caravan of President Trump supporters was working its way to the area. The group was diverted due to the police presence. The city remains under a county-wide curfew.

March organizers are now calling on participants to attend the Tallahassee City Commission meeting this coming Wednesday. They're pushing the commission to create an elected citizens' council with authority to hire, fire and investigate police actions.

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Lynn Hatter is a Florida A&M University graduate with a bachelor’s degree in journalism. Lynn has served as reporter/producer for WFSU since 2007 with education and health care issues as her key coverage areas. She is an award-winning member of the Capital Press Corps and has participated in the NPR Kaiser Health News Reporting Partnership and NPR Education Initiative. When she’s not working, Lynn spends her time watching sci-fi and action movies, writing her own books, going on long walks through the woods, traveling and exploring antique stores. Follow Lynn Hatter on Twitter: @HatterLynn.