Florida activists, including disabled man, arrested for ‘trespass’ for trying to confront Ron DeSantis on Covid

‘He does not want to meet with this public, he wants to run away!’

Gustaf Kilander
Washington, DC
Tuesday 04 January 2022 22:38
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Related video: DeSantis threatens to withhold school funds because of mask mandates

Florida police removed a number of community activists from a press conference with Governor Ron DeSantis after the group demanded that they be allowed to challenge his coronavirus policies.

A live video feed of the confrontation showed police officers handcuffing a protester and leading the rest of the group away after they refused to leave a state Health Department building in the Florida Capitol of Jacksonville where the governor was set to hold a briefing.

“The governor is afraid to meet with the people,” Ben Frazier, a disabled activist and the president and founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, said as an officer put him in handcuffs. “When it comes to public welfare, this governor does not care.”

“He does not want to meet with this public, he wants to run away!” Mr Frazier added as an aide to the governor pushed back on the notion that he was running away.

Mr Frazier was taken away in the back of a police vehicle, according to a First Coast News reporter at the scene.

In the video, the group could be seen sitting in the news briefing room waiting for Mr DeSantis to arrive, saying that they wanted to talk to the governor.

A man who said he was a facilities manager at the building told the activists they were trespassing and asked them to leave.

“I want to talk to the governor about his policies regarding the pandemic, regarding critical race theory, regarding House Bill 1,” one of the protesters responded, referencing an anti-riot law pushed by Mr DeSantis.

After the group said they would not leave, a woman who said she was with the governor’s office told them they weren’t being appropriate and asked the media to stop recording the group and instead prepare for the news conference. Police then led the group from the room.

Mr Frazier said Mr DeSantis was “missing in action” as the Omicron variant of Covid-19 tears through the state.

“There he goes! The governor is running! Look!” Mr Frazier said, appearing to indicate the governor walking past out of view. “The governor’s running!”

“He really does want to speak with you,” an aide told Mr Frazier, blaming him and the other protesters for delaying the press conference and preventing a conversation from taking place.

“Tell him we said welcome to Jacksonville, and stop running. Tell him to stop running and hiding and meet with the people,” Mr Frazier told the staffer.

Police and other officials asked people to leave. “This is an event for credentialed media,” they said, adding: “If you don’t have credentials you’re welcome to hang out outside.”

“We’re happy to have this conversation, we’re here for a press conference, we’re not here to cover drama,” the staffer said as journalists began documenting the arrest of Mr Frazier.

“For what reason am I being detained?” Mr Frazier said, calling Mr DeSantis “an enemy of the people”, according to footage from WJXT.

Speaking to the outlet following his arrest, Mr Frazier said the episode was a “stunning attempt to stop Black organisers from protesting peaceably”.

“The governor should not attempt to stop the people from being heard,” he added.

“The purpose of an official press conference is for credentialed media to cover information from the governor’s office and state leaders that is important for the public to hear,” the governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told The Independent in a statement. “The protester detained by Jacksonville police for trespassing this morning is not a member of the press. Mr Frazier is an activist who has disrupted official proceedings several times before, including a State Board of Education meeting and a City Council meeting that was forced to adjourn early due to his disruptive behavior.”

“If Mr Frazier had attempted to enter a White House press briefing to ‘protest peaceably’ in front of President Biden, Mr Frazier would likewise have been removed and detained. The only difference would be the liberal media’s reaction, or lack thereof,” she added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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