A Tampa protest over the death of George Floyd started peacefully Saturday afternoon but deteriorated with looters breaking into stores and setting fire to a gas station and sporting goods store.
The situation deteriorated as day turned to night in the North Tampa neighborhood near Busch Gardens and the University of South Florida. Tampa Police and Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies formed barriers around businesses after several stores were broken into and looted earlier in the day.
Large crowds gathered in the parking lot at the University Mall on Fowler Avenue and police in riot gear used tear gas to disperse them but they soon returned. Several stores along Fowler Avenue were looted. A Champ's Sporting Goods store was set on fire.
Champs Sports is fully engulfed. pic.twitter.com/cELm9Rc0tK
— Chad Chronister (@ChadChronister) May 31, 2020
The North Tampa protest was one of several marches held in the Tampa Bay region and across the country on Saturday. Hundreds of people peacefully protested the death of George Floyd, the latest death of a black man in police custody. Four police officers in Minneapolis have been fired. One has been charged with third-degree murder and manslaughter.
The North Tampa protest, which started in Temple Terrace with hundreds of people and shut down parts of Fowler Avenue, was mostly peaceful until a smaller group made its way down 30th Street to Busch Boulevard.
There, a standoff with police began as fireworks were launched into a crowd of officers who were stationed across the street. One officer was struck by a firework but was not injured. Some protesters also gained access to a convenience store on Busch Boulevard, where they took items and began throwing bottles and rocks at police. A group also threw rocks at a vacant Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office vehicle, breaking its windows, a release from the Tampa police said.
A crowd also gathered outside the Tampa Police District Two office at 9330 North 30th St. where some shattered the back window of a marked police vehicle, police said.
Later, a live feed from a WFLA helicopter showed people looting an AT&T store and Gold N Diamonds jewelry store on Fowler Avenue in Tampa. Police responded and arrested at least three people. Firefighters were also called to put out flames at the same convenience store that was looted earlier in the day.
“While we understand the anger and frustration people in the community have for events that took place halfway across the country, we will not condone the actions of those who seek to injure others or damage property," Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan said in a release. "We will work to ensure the safety of those who protest, but they should not confuse that with being an opportunity to break the law."
The protest was one of many around the Tampa Bay area and the country on Saturday in response to the killing of an African American man in police custody in Minnesota this week.
Chanting “shut it down” and carrying signs that read, “No justice, no peace” and “I can’t breathe,” a group of hundreds of protesters moved into the middle of an intersection of Fowler Avenue and 56th Street around 3 p.m. on Saturday.
Police officers from Temple Terrace and Tampa along with Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputies responded.
At one point a group of protesters banged on a law enforcement vehicle but officers quickly de-escalated the situation.
The protest started at the corner of Fowler Avenue and 56th Street. The crowd then walked to Temple Terrace City Hall before returning to Fowler Avenue. It then made its way west to 30th Street and blocked that intersection on Fowler.
Smaller protests took place in downtown Tampa and St. Petersburg on Saturday.
On Friday, protests took place around the country, some of which turned violent. The gatherings came days after a white police officer pressed his kneed into George Floyd’s necked as he begged for air. Floyd was handcuffed and was pleading that he could not breathe. The officer was charged with murder on Friday.
More protests were planned for Tampa and Lakeland on Sunday.
New Black Panther Party planned a protest at noon at the Tampa Police Department’s district 3 station, 3808 North 22nd Street.
Black Lives Matter Tampa is planning a protest for 1:30 p.m. at Cyrus Greene Park, 2101 E. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr Blvd.
Black Lives Matter Lakeland planned to protest at Munn Park in downtown Lakeland on Sunday at 1 p.m.