Florida activists released after rally over police shootings

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — More than a dozen demonstrators were released from jail in Florida's capital city, hours after being arrested during a protest over the exoneration of police by a grand jury in the deaths of three Black suspects in separate incidents earlier this year.

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Saturday's protest drew an unusually high number of law enforcement officers clad in riot gear, despite months of mostly peaceful demonstrations by groups bringing attention to the use of deadly force by police, particularly against Black people.

“It was like stormtroopers rushing across the street. I was in disbelief of what I was seeing,” said Trish Brown, a founder of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee and among the first to be arrested Saturday.

Police said protest organizers did not have permits for a Saturday afternoon march that drew dozens and that turned raucous after police began arresting demonstrators near the state Capitol.

Police said they arrested 15 people, although organizers said it was actually 14. Leon County jail records showed most were taken into custody for resisting officers and assembling unlawfully. Nearly all were released from custody after posting bond.

“This is our first time having this type of aggression,” Brown said. “Why did they need all of those police geared for riots. They were ready and set. They came with this kind of force for people with tennis shoes and shorts and T-shirts and just their bodies. We didn’t have any weapons. We didn’t have any sticks. We didn’t have any stones. It was just our bodies.”

Tallahassee police did not immediately respond to phone calls requesting comment. Mayor John Dailey also could not be reached.

Groups linked to the Black Lives Matter movement called for the demonstration after a Leon County grand jury declined to issue indictments against Tallahassee police officers involved in the shooting deaths of Mychael Johnson, Tony McDade and Wilbon Woodard — all of whom were Black.

Jurors concluded the use of deadly force was justified.

More than 100 protesters took to the streets near the Capitol Saturday afternoon. They were met by a phalanx of law officers from the Tallahassee Police Department, Leon County Sheriff's Office, the Florida Highway Patrol, as well officers from the nearby Capitol and Florida State University.

Dozens of officers equipped with shields and battle gear formed lines outside the state Capitol. A helicopter flew overhead.

For months, activists have staged rallies in Tallahassee to bring attention to police killings they say were unjustified.

Most have been peaceful, although a confrontation last weekend turned awry when a man pulled a gun on protesters. The incident led Leon County to put in place a curfew from 11 p.m. to 5 a.m.

While the grand jury declined to hand down indictments against the police officers, it found areas of concern.

In the March shooting of Mychael Johnson, one officer, Zackri Jones, yelled, “I’m going to kill you,” before shooting him in the back of the head during a violent struggle, the Democrat reported.

It also noted that the officer who shot and killed McDade violated police department policy by not activating his body camera.

McDade died after he stabbed and killed a 21-year-old, but there were differing accounts about McDade’s confrontation with police in late May.

About a week earlier, police shot and killed Woodard, who police say was armed, after a report of an altercation in a restaurant parking lot.