By Vaughn Wilson/ NNPA
TALLAHASSEE, FL – While the most of the country protests the police killing of George Floyd in Minnesota, protesters in Tallahassee were fueled by its own police killings. Three deadly police shootings since March 20 were at the center of a large protest in Tallahassee on Saturday. Coupled with that fact that they occurred under the watch of new police chief Lawrence Revell, who was installed in December, protest leaders formed the march to express concerns over what they began to see as a pattern.
Following the sudden resignation of its chief of police in June of 2019, Tallahassee residents began to express concern over what they saw as a peculiar search where the city was set to name an African American as its next police chief with the contract all but signed. Suddenly, Antonio Gilliam, who was currently the assistant police chief in St. Petersburg, rescinded his acceptance of the position over a contract dispute. In short order, another of the finalists, Revell was named Tallahassee Chief of Police.
Some Tallahasseans were skeptical with the way Revell’s appointment evolved, creating a mistrust among citizens in some circles.
The fatal shootings of Mychael Johnson (Mar. 20), Wilbon Woodrow (May 20), and transgender male Tony McDade (May 29), coupled with the country’s unrest over the very public and deliberate death of Floyd, ignited a powder keg that resulted in the protest. Revell himself had been involved and cleared in an incident where he fatally shot a Black male in 1996.
Tesia Lisbon, a Florida A&M University student, was at the center of the organization of the march and was the vocal leader at the event. “The people who are Black in this city, the people who support Black people in this city have watched and seen and heard about three people dying under the direction of Chief Revell. We have not heard of any indictments and no tapes have been released. We have sat and watched Tallahassee police get away with a lot of things and we’re not taking it anymore,” she said.
Saturday’s protest was not without incident though.
The protest began around 11 a.m., traveling to Monroe street, the main street of Tallahassee that houses the Florida Capitol. As TPD tried to turn the march toward an off-street, an angry truck of three white men from Georgia deliberately rammed through the crowd in a red pickup truck, hitting protestors. The driver yelled “White supremacy” among other things as he was being arrested by TPD.
A FAMU professor, who spoke on terms of anonymity, got involved to try to foster a safe environment for the crowd of mostly students from FAMU, Florida State University and Tallahassee Community College. Several high school students were also a part of the demonstration.
“I’m here because I knew we would have a lot of students participating. It got very tense when the motorist revved his engine and ran right into the crowd. You could hear the thuds of their bodies being hit by the vehicle. The truck stopped momentarily as some of the kids tried to reach in and turn off the vehicle. The driver revved the engine again and hit even more bodies before the police were able to apprehend him,” she said.
Arkia Gordon was traumatized by the incident. “All I hear is the tires screeching over and over again. I looked straight into his eyes like I was looking into the eyes of evil. The main reason I was out there is because I wanted to be heard. I wanted to let the people of Tallahassee know that even though this (Floyd) happened in Minnesota, it has happened in Florida before. I wanted them to know we are all affected by this,” she said.
After taking a moment to recover from the shock, the resilient crowd continued their march to the Florida Capitol, where they occupied the main intersection of the center of the city. After demanding Florida State Attorney Jack Campbell file charges and Revell be investigated because of his history, the day wore on. Finally, City of Tallahassee Mayor Pro Tempore Dianne Williams-Cox appeared in the center of the crowd.
“I am first a mother of three Black males and the grandmother of three more. I am one of you. Mark my word, we will perform a full and transparent investigation. Nothing will be off the table,” she concluded. With the assistance of the Rev. Dr. R.B. Holmes, President of the Tallahassee Chapter of the National Action Network, the protestors agreed to leave the area.
They then proceeded to the Florida Governor’s Mansion, where Florida Governor Ron DeSantis resides. This would bring the day to its most tense moments. A cadre of law enforcement surrounded the protestors to maintain a perimeter around the governor’s mansion as one of the protestors tried to scale the fence to the property. Riot gear was brought out and a face-to-face standoff ensued. At this point TPD was joined by members of the Leon County Sheriff’s Department and the Florida Highway Patrol. Eventually the crowd dissipated as Holmes and the Rev. Rudy Ferguson instructed the group to disband for their own safety.
Lisbon is resolved to continue to peacefully protest if the conditions of the group are not met. “Black people dying in the streets has continued to be an epidemic. These trends have continued to bear strange fruit. It’s just a different kind of lynching.”