Protesters don't live up to hype at Republican convention

Herald staff reportAugust 31, 2012 

TAMPA -- Since the start of the Republican National Convention, downtown Tampa has resembled a city under siege.

Towering fences surrounded the Tampa Bay Times Forum, a labyrinth of road blocks re-routed pedestrians and motorists and 3,500 armed law enforcement officers continuously patrolled every corner.

But through four days, only three convention-related arrests were reported, leaving some wondering if protesters didn't live up to expectations of chaos like the events that took place at the 2008 Republican Convention in Minnesota, where an estimated 800 people were arrested, including journalists.

The three arrests consisted of a man wearing a mask inside the security zone, a battery and drug possession at the protesters' camp site, and a protester carrying a machete.

Five convention-related arrests were made in Pinel

las County as of late Thursday. Four of those arrests were made by St. Petersburg Police.

"You'll have to ask the groups that had indicated that they were coming here why they didn't make it," said Jane Castor, Tampa Police Chief. "It could have been partly the weather, but you would think that if someone was committed that once the hurricane wasn't an impediment, they would have been on there way down here. I'm not sure what it was."

Castor commended the law enforcement officers, referring to how the officers remained calm and followed protocol during a spontaneous protest Wednesday night in which demonstrators tempted officers with doughnuts on fishing poles and laid in the street.

But the final day of the convention wasn't without its demonstrations.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office dealt with a group of protesters from Earth First, Romneyville and Occupy New York. The group, traveling on two buses, were told they had to leave the IKEA property before heading to TECO's Big Bend Power Plant. Police cut apart demonstrators who were lying down and chained together. There was no property damage or assaults, said Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee.

"We were tyring to be really careful," said Gee, of the officers who used saws to separate the protesters. "It's not an easy thing."

Later Thursday night as Clint Eastwood, Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney and others spoke at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, police in vehicles, on bicycles and atop horses barricaded hundreds of protesters as they held their final march of the Republican National Convention.

Police, holding batons and other weapons, worked to "fill in the gaps" as some demonstrators ran ahead of the group. Security stood on the roofs of buildings and parking garages watching the crowds below.

Before the march, Sparrow North and Diamond Dave Whitaker passed out sandwiches to demonstrators staying at the Romneyville camp. Occupants there marched along Franklin to Lykes Gaslight Park where others joined the protest.

People of all ages held signs with messages about various political issues.

Protesters on megaphones shouted to the crowd.

"We love the USA. We want protection. We are here to fight for America," one said. "We want our jobs back. We love the potential America has. We do not love the current state it is in. It has been this way for too long now."

When the demonstrator finished his speech, the crowd repeated together, "People unite."

Dahlia Moon from Tampa sat in front of police officers, playing her guitar.

As rain began to pour, police announced severe weather was approaching the area and the crowd should move out of the area.

"They're just trying to get you to leave," said Bruce Wright. "I live in Florida. We have this weather all the time."

The march continued down Franklin, Tampa and Whiting streets as Vermin Supreme, a protester, asked police to contact Hillsborough County Sheriff David Gee. Supreme called Gee, leaving a message, asking if the protesters would be permitted into the forum for shelter from the weather. The crowd then headed down Ashley and Jackson streets, stopping occasionally for speakers and songs.

Regina Rossi from Pinellas Park, joined the protest "because I'm really concerned for the country. Everybody is going to be affected by this presidential election. It's all about greed."

As police lined the streets to a designated free speech zone, protesters became agitated.

"There ain't no such thing as a free speech cage," yelled an Occupy Wall Street protester named Ed. "I think it's a travesty we can put that phrase together - free speech cage. Mitt Romney wants to limit our speech. Money equals speech to Romney. Most of these people here don't have money, so they don't have a voice."

The crowd then headed down Morgan Street where they stopped at an intersection when police would not allowed them to enter the security zone. One protester asked officers repeatedly, "Why aren't we allowed on that street?" Police stared straight ahead.

Many protesters sat in the middle of the road while a group performed a musical skit.

The group remained there past 10 p.m.

Also Thursday, dozens of physicians and medical students representing Doctors For America paraded through downtown to show their support for the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, a health reform act encouraged by the Obama administration.

"We're very excited to be here and spread the word and make sure that politicians everywhere on both sides of the aisle, Republican and Democrat, will come together because ultimately, the affordable health care act and health reform is about saving lives and we can't afford to lose it," said Alice Chen, an internal medicine doctor in Los Angeles and executive director of Doctors for America.

The physicians said the affordable care act has drastically changed medical practices in America. "Various things are being expanded," said Lisa Plymate, an internal medicine specialist from Seattle. "The donut hole is being shrunk. It has already taken affect for children."

"When I take care of patients, a major difficulty is funding care of patients," said Robert Luedecke, an anesthesiologist from Texas. "A lot of people who work minimum wage jobs in Texas have no insurance. Twenty-five percent of people in Texas have no insurance, that's the highest in the nation."

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