All $50 Million in Federal Funding for Security Visible Last Week in Tampa
Around the State
Conventioneers and protesters alike plain didn't expect it in downtown Tampa: the sight of roving packs of khaki-clad police officers, on foot and bicycle, armed with handguns, batons and in some areas high-powered weapons.
The streets around the Tampa Bay Times Forum, cordoned off and closed by cement and metallic barricades, had become a police state.
The heavy security vastly limited the mobility of conventioneers, discouraging them from frequenting businesses that had been promised riches through an influx of wealthy Republicans in search of food and souvenirs during Republican National Convention week.
A few masked and avowed anarchists pointed to the overwhelming law enforcement presence.
Moments before U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Miami, hit the stage to introduce Mitt Romney for his party’s presidential speech, the protest crowd at Lykes Gaslight Square Park in downtown Tampa stood about 200 strong.
The media and individuals with video devices recording the event were equally strong as they gathered around the chanting, drumming and vuvuzela-blowing contingent.
With the fear of a reprisal of the clashes that occurred outside the GOP’s 2008 convention in St. Paul, Minnesota, Tampa’s Democratic Mayor Bob Buckhorn defended the beefed up effort to maintain peace.
“Given a choice of the image of a city that is safe, a city that is prepared or the image of a city where anarchists run amok,” he said, “I’ll take the safe city image.”
Walking across downtown Tampa Thursday night one felt incredibly safe.
That’s what $50 million in federal funding directed toward law enforcement, with 60 agencies adding 2,500 to 3,000 officers to the 1,000 local law enforcement officers.
The manpower was able to keep in line the protests -- blocks away from the view of those attending the Republican National Convention, coming and going into the Tampa Bay Times Forum -- that peaked with Thursday’s crowd.
Friday morning, the city’s Joint Information Center reported that during the week there were two convention-related arrests and five heat-related incidents during the week.
On stretches of Jackson Street, between the two locations, one could encounter a law enforcement officer every eight to 10 steps.
Most were chatty and friendly. They pointed out open but mostly empty restaurants to whom they had given some business during the week.
A waitress at Urban Cantina on Madison Street, fronting the protest square, said that despite the promise of an economic boom for the downtown, few people ventured into the restaurant during the week. Only the occasional law enforcement officer and conventioneer -- that was it.
“We all thought we were going to a make a lot of money but there hasn’t been anybody,” she said.
Protesters said the puny turnout was both a sign of the economy -- many protestors don’t have the money or time to protest -- and the amount of law enforcement and barricades.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Ann Wright, a member of the women’s antiwar group CodePink, said the effort was purposely designed overkill to boost funding.
“They knew there was not going to be a lot of protesters here. They’re on all our email lists, they know as much about ourselves as we know of ourselves,” Wright said. “But they still brought in all these law enforcement officers. And the reason we are surrounded is that there is nothing else for them to do.”
On Wednesday night, Wright was with her granddaughter in the Republican Nation Convention as protesters briefly attempted to cut into the thunder of vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan's acceptance speech.
As Laura Mills was escorted from the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Wright was right behind her, unmolested by security in part because, Wright says, she is a little slower and a litter grayer.
Neither was arrested. Just their passes were confiscated.
While the focus of their efforts this week was the GOP, Wright said the overall goad is to change the culture in Washington, as they plan to be in North Carolina next week for the Democratic convention.
Another downtown protester, his face covered with a bandana, said he didn't want to be identified because President Obama had declared them terrorists, assigning the NSA, CIA and FBI to keep watch over the protesters.
“I can’t even walk down to the street without the helicopters following me,” the masked man declared.
Boss Group Ministry outside the Tampa Bay Times Forum, 8-30-12. Photo by Jim TurnerThose heading to the Tampa Bay Times Forum Thursday night for the convention did encounter some sign wavers who were not being redirected by security.
The Boss Group Ministry, a contingent of about 15 blacks from South Florida, rallied their support for the GOP and for Christ, holding signs defending the tea party groups from charges of racism.
The group’s spokesman, Michael the Black Man, said they hadn’t planned to travel to Tampa but did so to confront “phony” Black Panthers they had seen on TV.
“They’re on TV saying they don’t know how a black person could vote for the Republicans, but we’re sticking with the Republicans, they’re the ones who fought to free us,” Michael the Black Man said.
“We view that any black man voting against the Republican Party should be ashamed of themselves.”
He equated blacks against the GOP with a Jewish person voting for self-declared Nazi party members.
Reach Jim Turner at email@example.com or at (772) 215-9889.