By Yaël Ossowski | Florida Watchdog
TAMPA— As delegates and suit-clad Republican Party officials were busy rewriting the nominating rules for the Republican Party on Monday at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, detractors and protesters were getting their message out three blocks away at the Lykes Gaslight Park.
Seemingly undeterred by the growing mass of police officers dressed head to toe in tactical gear and brandishing semiautomatic weapons, dozens of members of affiliated Occupy groups stood with signs and banners in support of Texas U.S. Rep. Ron Paul and Jill Stein, the Green Party presidential nominee. There was also a large white banner demanding “Food Not Bombs,” an initiative of the local Occupy Tampa group.
At one point, 10 demonstrators locked arms and walked toward the wall of 200 “storm troopers,” as dubbed by the protesters’ chants, and sat down in the street, an arm’s length from the officers dispatched to keep order and quell rebellion.
After more than an hour of chants from a group of 30 demonstrators, who were accompanied by more than 20 people armed with video cameras and official Republican National Convention media passes, the small crowd began slowly walking away from the wall of officers into the nearby park.
This was done, said protester Charlie Mills, of Pinellas Park, because the officers were resorting to “kettling,” where police encircle a group of protesters and limit their path of exit.
In the end, neither side attempted any violence, but the tension remained high until about 5:30 p.m., when heavy rainfall from Tropical Storm Isaac forced protesters under awnings of local businesses.
One eclectic member who led the chants was activist Vermin Supreme, himself a presidential candidate in the 2012 election, who is most famous for wearing a boot on his head and vowing to require brushing of teeth.
Supreme picked up a bullhorn and warned the wall of officers not to attack the crowd of peaceful protesters who were gathered to exercise their First Amendment rights.
“I understand that you people in the front line, you’re not going to move until your CO (commanding officer) tells you to, so respect that,” Supreme said politely.
“If, at any time during this event, you are ordered to attack, please pull your punches. You don’t have to curtain anybody.
“The crowd will eventually disperse,” Supreme reminded the officers. “It’s always best to let the crowd disperse on its own.”
In the makeshift battlefield of downtown Tampa, the various coalitions of police departments were winning the numbers game.
All along the streets and major intersections near the main festive point for the RNC, state troopers, Hillsborough, Pinellas and Polk County sheriff’s deputies and members of the Secret Service were huddled in groups, prepared for any uncertain situation.
State troopers on horseback patrolled the perimeter of the “Event Zone,” the officially designated protest area carved out by the Tampa City Council in May.
Only one individual, 20-year-old Dominick Delarosa, was arrested for refusing to take off a mask, according to Tampa Police.
Delarosa was “told repeatedly by officers that (the mask) was a violation of the event ordinance” and that masks were prohibited in the Event zone, said Tampa Police Chief Jane Castor in a news conference.
After some resistance, Delarosa was wrestled to the ground by two officers who quickly moved him from the protest area.
“Individuals splintered off from that and have been basically running through the downtown area and we’re monitoring them right now just to ensure that everyone is safe and that there’s no damage in the downtown area, but so far everything has been very, very successful,” Castor said.
Contact Yaël Ossowski by email at [email protected] and on Twitter @YaelOss