Deirdre O’Leary, Staff Writer
ST. PETERSBURG — Ashley Green, an organizer with Dream Defenders, was recently interviewed on WMNF radio by where she spoke of clashes with right-wing counter-protesters in downtown St Pete.
Although Black Lives Matter protesters have been peacefully marching since George Floyd’s murder, all along they have encountered physical harm. Motorists have slammed into protesters in intersections, and few, if any, have been cited by police.
Green said the motorists have always done this at crosswalks and have been cheered on by the Pinellas Crime Watch and Blue Thunder Facebook groups. She saw a t-shirt that said, “all lives splatter, get out of the road.”
Green countered the idea that “both sides” have contributed to the violence. The protesters have been met with violence, and “so few of our leaders have been critical about the violence done to us.”
She said it shows “the lack of moral clarity that property is put over people — what people matter is conditional to your political affiliation.”
Green feels that threats by white nationalists are to be taken seriously, citing that they had a gun pulled on them, and the police “have spent weeks trying to justify it.”
According to Green, police normally are responsible for escalating protest situations by showing up in riot gear, but this hadn’t been the case this summer in St. Pete. She felt they were keeping watch from a safe distance. This is in contrast to Tampa, where police have used tear gas and rubber bullets on protesters.
However, Green was disappointed when counter-protesters arrived on Sept. 26, that the police did not try to separate the groups despite Black Lives Matter protesters being pushed and shoved. She wondered if it was retaliation.
Green referred to the Blue Lives Matter protester, who pushed a woman to the ground on a widely viewed video and brandished a gun while police did not intervene or follow up. Brandishing a firearm is a crime in Florida as it is not an open-carry state. Also, police did not intervene that day when protesters were followed to the Pier and harassed physically.
A week later, on Oct. 3, the second round of counter-protests drew a larger crowd and a better police response. A row of police on bicycles stood between Black Lives Matter protesters and the counter-protesters, acting as a barrier. This protest drew well-known right-wing provocateurs Gary Snow and Jonathan Riches’ attention.
Members of the Blue Thunder motorcycle club, which Green said is affiliated with SPPD, were on hand heckling protesters and trying to provoke altercations. The Pinellas and Bay Area Crime watch groups are also active and encourage actions against Black Lives Matter protests.
Supporters of Trump also turned out to protest against the Black Lives Matter movement. Green’s group protested silently and ignored the counter-protesters who may have been disappointed they did not get the attention they sought.
“White supremacy and white power is dying in America. They understand that, which is why they are fighting the way they are,” Green said. “These people are not worth the attention.”
The Black Lives Matter protests are held locally by St. Pete Peace Protest and Movement St. Pete, both on Facebook. Green said their aim is “greater police accountability, justice and equity in the Black community in St Petersburg.” Specifically, their demands are:
- Reduction to the SPPD budget proportional to the recent decline in crime, and allocating those funds to affordable housing, healthcare, education and minority community outreach
- Having general elections for all members of the police conduct review committee; continual use of body cameras by police; decriminalization of protest
- $20 million diverted from the general fund for affordable housing
- Free early childhood education
- CRA bridge loans and grants for local development. Community control of the CRA
- Youth and Black-focused workforce development
- Programs to address health disparity
The protest group is involved in other efforts besides marching and protests, such as feeding the unhoused, working a community garden, and weekly neighborhood cleanup. They also started “Know your Rights” training, and refer residents to mental health counseling through Healthy St. Pete.
They can be reached on the Facebook groups St. Pete Peace Protest and Movement St. Pete.