Protesters Will Gather Friday to Protest Private Sidewalks At Baywalk

10/16/09 Arielle Stevenson
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Yesterday, the St. Petersburg City Council voted 5-3 to privatize the sidewalk in front of BayWalk. A fight broke out between two men in the meeting, and emotions ran high.

The vote reversed a decision made two weeks ago. Last week local activist group St. Pete for Peace, which has protested frequently at BayWalk, agreed to postpone any future protests for the next year, as a good faith gesture towards the city council. But when the council changed their decision last week,

St. Pete for Peace’s Chris Ernesto says they decided to resume protests again, beginning with tonight.

Councilman Herbert Polson’s vote last night to privatize the sidewalks broke the 4 to 4 tie from two weeks ago. Polson says that the issue was one of the hardest decisions he has ever made.

But Ernesto says that Polson promised protesters more support, something that Ernesto says did not happen at yesterday’s meeting.

When WMNF asked Council-member Polson whether the decision negatively affects free speech in Tampa Bay, Polson was silent for four seconds before replying.

But Jimmy Dunson of St. Pete for Peace says that protesters reached out with the offer to halt protests for a year but this decision forced protesters to get back on the streets.

Councilman Jeff Danner, voted against the motion, says that protester's previous agreement to stop protests for 12 months, weighed little when it came to the council’s decision.

According to council members the ordinance won’t take effect for at least a month. But St. Pete for Peace’s Chris Ernesto says that protests will continue and a lawsuit is very likely.

Glenn Katon is with the ALCU of Florida. He says this vote violates first amendment rights.

BayWalk has struggled financially for years and been a centerpiece of controversy for Downtown St. Petersburg. With the increased privatization of BayWalk, St. Pete for Peace’s Dunson says the St. Petersburg City Council has crossed the line.

The protest will begin at 8:30 this evening in front of Baywalk and the surround public areas. Groups expected there are the Uhurus, Rise Up Tampa Bay, St. Pete for Peace and Refuge Ministries.

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