Law enforcement turned the other cheek to Tampa RNC protesters
TAMPA, Fla. — Under Tampa’s alternating sunshine and threatening clouds, law enforcement met the threat of potential anarchist violence during the Republican National Convention with kindness, patience, food and water.
On Aug. 27, for example, while Tropical Storm Isaac loomed over the city, anarchists pushed back against a phalanx of armored riot police during an afternoon march, taunting them for obstructing the path back to their encampment. Several protesters sat down in front of the riot police.
As the officer stood at the ready, a member of the Justice Department’s Community Relations Service rose to defuse a potentially disastrous situation.
Only minutes earlier a Green Party contingent, whose march with the occupiers included placing children at the head of the procession, had concluded their portion of the demonstration and left the street. (RELATED: Children of ‘Occupy Tampa’ [PHOTOS])
“What do you want?” he asked them.
“We just want to go back the way we came,” replied the anarchists, boxed in between two street intersections by law enforcement.
“Alright, let me see what I can do,” the professional communicator said, before disappearing into the crowd. He returned a few minutes later to lead them through a newly created path between the barricades of riot police.
Minutes later, Isaac unleashed his torrential rains on the streets. Protesters danced and sang in the street, soaked, as he led them all the way back to their encampment several blocks away.
Law enforcement resolved a separate evening standoff between protesters and their bike-mounted police escort later in the week by sending in a hostage negotiator instead of using force. (RELATED: “Occupy” protest coverage from the 2012 political conventions)
The predicted storm canceled the travel plans of 16 busloads of protesters, many from New York City. Those buses also contained needed supplies, including food and water. Occupiers at the ‘Romneyville’ encampment who had planned on those supplies’ arrival faced a food shortage by the end of the week.
The Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office fed them with sandwiches and boxed lunches from their own supplies.
At least one activist who had been standoffish with law enforcement at the start of the week told them later that he had to “eat his words,” Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Larry McKinnon told The Daily Caller.
TheDC also witnessed law enforcement officers in a golf cart approaching a group of hot, tired protesters to offer them bottles of Gatorade.
McKinnon told TheDC that law enforcement made sure marchers knew law enforcement officers were also there to protect their right to protest. (RELATED: Reporter’s Notebook: Sh*t Occupy Tampa says [PHOTOS])
“We wanted them to know that no protester would be arrested for protesting — only for breaking the law,” said McKinnon. “This was the message straight from Sheriff [David] Gee.”
Police held several talks with protest groups before the convention, moderated by the ACLU, to make them aware of the sheriff’s message.
They also encouraged protest leaders to avoid letting more hardcore anarchists within their groups detract from their messages.
Law enforcement trained for the convention for nearly a year on a $50 million budget and brandished sophisticated non-lethal crowd control weapons. (RELATED: At RNC, occupiers’ signs slam Fox News, politicize vaginas, link GOP to Al-Qaida [VIDEO])
“We’re happy that we never had to use all of that force,” said McKinnon.
At one point, he told TheDC, several protesters even joked with police, saying, “We just can’t get you guys to arrest us.”
in some cases, that wasn’t true.
One marcher refused to remove his mask inside the city’s “no mask” zone. Another was arrested for possessing a machete. A city ordinance for the convention week prohibited both of these items within the area closest to the convention. (RELATED: Grenades, machetes sold at store adjacent to protest camp ‘Romneyville’ outside RNC)
Law enforcement also had to intervene during a scuffle between two homeless men inside the occupiers’ camp.
Some protesters were heard thanking police for their kindness. There were also no assaults made against officers.
“I think we caught them off-guard,” said McKinnon.
Grae Stafford, Zach Gorelick, Sally Nelson and Melissa Quinn contributed to this report.