Recent protests causes around the city range from outrage over the decision not to indict officers in the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner to the photo of a nude pregnant woman at a local museum. Area citizens have joined the national outcry of public protests by participating in surprise “die-ins” across the city. From Hemming Plaza to the interstate and the Harts Bridge, protesters have caused chaos and havoc along with massive delays on Jacksonville thoroughfares. They vow to continue popping up at random locations.
Organized by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC), protests began with a “die-in” where individuals laid down and refused to move in Hemming Plaza. Some held signs and wore shirts that read, “I can’t breathe”.
The crowd heard from various speakers and demanded justice for the atrocities of Black and Latino American males around the country. Local activists Denise Hunt spoke to the crowd, “we want justice for our black men and we want the nation to know that we will not stand silent.”
The JPC’s next steps include submitting a list of demands for current elected officials and candidates to sign off on. Activist Diallo Sekou, who was amongst the arrestees of the Hart Bridge blockage and leader of the Ownership and Control The Movement Coalition, expressed his sentiments.
“This movement will not be stopped. I’m staying calm like a volcano, even though we’ve been advised of that the big picture would be to make an economic impact. We refuse to be silent. I stand with the people,” he said.
The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office arrested 19 individuals after safely escorting them off the Hart Bridge shortly after 5pm on Monday. They were charged with obstruction of traffic on the bridge, and with the exception of one with an outstanding warrant and another who was charged with Battery on a Law Enforcement Officer, by Tuesday morning all others had been released from the Pre Trial Detention Facility with notices to appear in court in January.
The evening traffic obstruction was the second one on Monday, after individuals in cars blocked traffic on Interstate 95 near Emerson Street, and then began protesting on the highway. This was quickly addressed by law enforcement from both JSO and the Florida Highway Patrol.
All protesters in both incidents were escorted to safety and off those major roadways. Both incidents resulted in major traffic backups, as officers worked to mitigate the disruption and protect the public and the protestors.
“I want to thank the citizens for their patience in these incidents. We are working hard to protect the First Amendment right of our citizens to peaceably protest, however, my officers are also working to keep everyone safe when the chosen location of the protest, such as bridges and highways, presents such a clear danger to the welfare of everyone and presents a clear disregard for the law. Our officers have conducted themselves admirably, especially during the arrests of the 19 individuals who were obstructing the traffic on the Hart Bridge last night,” said Sheriff John Rutherford.
The Sheriff attributes the non-confrontational nature of these incidents to the long standing relationships he and his men and women have built and maintain in the community, particularly those representing minority interests and among citizens in some of Jacksonville’s most challenged neighborhoods.
“Last night’s obstruction of traffic arrests occurred without incident, with the exception of one individual who chose to become violent and strike an officer. This resulted in a Battery on a Law Enforcement charge. Coincidentally, this was the one individual who is not from the Jacksonville area.