JACKSONVILLE, Fla. (AP) — Police in Florida removed a handful of community activists from a news conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday after the group demanded to challenge the governor’s coronavirus policies.
A live video feed of the confrontation showed police handcuffing a protester and leading the rest of the group away after they refused to leave a state Health Department building in Jacksonville where the governor was set to hold a briefing.
“The governor is afraid to meet with the people,” said Ben Frazier, president and founder of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, as an officer handcuffed him. “When it comes to public welfare, this governor does not care.”
Frazier, 71, was taken away in the back of a police cruiser, according to a First Coast News reporter at the news conference. He has been charged with trespassing and has been ordered to appear in court, according to a criminal citation from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.
In the video, the group could be seen sitting in the news briefing room waiting for DeSantis to arrive, saying 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 polices regarding the pandemic, regarding critical race theory, regarding House Bill 1,” one of the protesters responded, referencing an anti-riot law championed by 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 media to stop recording the group and instead prepare for the news conference. Police then led the activists from the room.
Florida Democrats were quick to criticize the incident.
“In Florida, the people come last. In Florida, the Governor runs and hides when the people demand to be a priority. In Florida, peacefully questioning authority gets you arrested,” Rep. Angie Nixon, a Jacksonville Democrat, said in a statement.
In a statement, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw defended the removal of Frazier, saying he was blocking the public from hearing the governor’s news conference.
“Every citizen has the right to protest in public places -– but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent essential information from being conveyed to the public,” she said.