Protests at Tampa GOP convention fizzle out

Associated Press
Demonstrator Carole Fields of Palm Beach, Fla., listens to a speech, on Monday in Tampa. Hundreds of protestors gathered in a park in Tampa to march in demonstration against the Republican National Convention.

Associated Press

TAMPA, Fla. — There have been no speeches inside the convention hall and it’s nearly as quiet outside, too.

So far, the protests have been muted and only two people have been arrested as of Monday night. That’s in stark contrast to four years ago, when hundreds of protesters were arrested at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.

Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor said police this week are trying to give leeway to protesters in the street, but when a 20-year-old man refused to remove a bandanna covering his face on Monday, he was arrested. Face coverings are prohibited in the event zones. Protesters can say and do whatever they would like “as long as they don’t cross the line into criminal behavior,” she added.

And protesters, who for months planned to converge on Tampa to showcase their gripes and messages, have been peaceful and small in number. The lingering rain bands and wind from Tropical Storm Isaac that skirted Florida’s west coast and the massive police presence kept the crowds away, organizers said.

A march that had been predicted to draw 5,000 people in the morning drew just a few hundred.

“Obviously, to go from an estimated 5,000 to a couple hundred, the weather had to play a part,” Castor said.

When about a dozen protesters sat in front of a line of police in riot gear, Tampa Assistant Police Chief John Bennett squatted down and chatted with them for a minute. They agreed to stand up and walk away. The line of riot police quickly multiplied to about 100 as a downpour started, dispersing the already small group, except those who danced in the rain.

“They’ve militarized Tampa. The chilling effect has succeeded,” Cara Jennings, a voter outreach organizer from Palm Beach County, said earlier in the day.

The 60 organizing groups for the protests included labor unions, Students for a Democratic Society, Veterans for Peace, the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, Occupy Wall Street and Code Pink. They are here to protest the GOP’s economic and social policies. But organizers said there was no question the storm predictions kept their numbers down. Florida labor organizer Jose Soto said 16 buses of protesters from New York, Miami and the Florida Panhandle canceled because of the storm.