Poor People Economic Human Rights Campaign blocked by police during Monday's second major march on the RNC

08/28/12 Josh Holton
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Despite a tropical storm warning, school closures, and the postponed Republican convention activities in Tampa, the second major protest of Monday kicked off in the afternoon in the city’s downtown financial district. The Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign organized a large non-permitted march starting in “Romneyville.”

Khaki clothed police officers on bicycles escorted the southbound march for half a mile down Tampa Street, which leads to the RNC venue. Several children led the front lines of the march, and about 300 protesters followed behind chanting slogans about ending homelessness.

One of the founders of the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign, and Green Party Vice Presidential candidate Cheri Honkala called for a peaceful protest.

“Because these children deal with violence every day of their life. Every day of their life these children see people being shot down; killed on my block, Mutter street, and they see people pulling out knives on each other. They see people throwing things and breaking windows and doing other kinds of things. Well today, dammit, we’re gonna have these children march in peace, is that true? [yeah!] They see the violence every day of their life of the police, but today these children are gonna march in peace, is that right? Ok, well let’s get started. We want you to raise your voices.”

Once the marchers approached the RNC, police in riot gear blocked any access to get closer to the venue. The crowd was forced eastbound and on the next block, police in riot gear had them surrounded on two sides. Occupy D.C. member Ryan Lash then yelled at the officers.

“All we’ve been wanting to do for over ten minutes now is to be able to continue to go the same way we just came. Why can’t we do that.? Why can’t you answer that? Why can’t we go the same way we just came? Because the roads aren’t open? The road is open now? Ok, and what about back there where we’re still blocked off? Yeah well…there’s bike cops over there.”

Officers were lined up three rows back, and almost every intersection was sectioned off with police bicycle barricades. One Tampa Police officer wearing a hostage negotiation uniform set up a Long Range Acoustic device or LRAD, also known as a sound cannon.

Rev. Bruce Wright is with the Poor People’s Economic Human Rights Campaign. He criticized the overabundance of law enforcement officials, given that they outnumbered demonstrators by about 10 to one.

“And if it was to communicate to the crowd, why not use a bullhorn? So in effect what they were doing by having the highly militarized, body-armored police on a nonviolent peaceful protest, along with LRAD was to intimidate, and threaten and harass people."

Wright said police harassment has been going on for a while, with law enforcement making their presence known at Romneyville, an encampment set up to protest US Economic and housing policies.

"Helicopters flying low at night in formations, spotlights, we’ve been sleep deprived which is a form of torture. And the police have consistently tried to get on our land. We have ordered them off because it is privately owned land that we have leased, so they really can’t be on it.”

While there were no arrests during this march, one protester was arrested earlier in the day for refusing to remove a bandana mask, an action which is illegal under Tampa City Code.

The protesters marched back to Romneyville after their brief standoff with the police, and the officers in riot gear proceeded to march around downtown in the pouring rain. Many protesters saw the riot gear and posturing to be a form of intimidation, while others remarked on how helpful the group of bicycle officers were at protecting the march.

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