'Jacksonville 19' protesters out of jail, facing charges for protesting racism
Jacksonville, FL – 19 protesters arrested for shutting down the Hart Bridge in Jacksonville were released from jail on Dec. 9.
The protesters, dubbed the 'Jacksonville 19' by local activists and media, stopped traffic on the bridge on Dec. 8 to demand justice for Eric Garner. Garner was the African-American man who NYPD choked, leading to his death. A New York grand jury refused to indict the white police officer Daniel Pantaleo, continuing a nationwide protest movement against racism and police brutality.
On the morning of Dec. 8, about a dozen protesters parked cars and blocked traffic on I-95 northbound. Carrying signs that read, “Black lives matter” and “I can't breathe,” the group halted traffic until police arrived and forced them onto a nearby overpass.
Then in the afternoon, 19 protesters blocked traffic on the Hart Bridge. The protesters slowed their cars to a crawl on the two-lane highway and many walked between the cars holding signs. Police eventually led the protesters off the bridge to a parking garage near EverBank Field, where they detained the entire crowd.
According to several activists, police informed the crowd they would be receiving verbal warnings and written citations for obstructing traffic. However, activists say, the police sergeant then received an order from Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford to arrest all 19 protesters.
The protesters were held in a parking garage near the John E. Goode Pre-trial Detention Facility for several hours. Police seized everyone's phones, cameras and other media storage devices, claiming them as evidence to identify the activists who attended the morning traffic shutdown. No cell phones or other seized devices are yet returned to protesters as of Dec. 12.
Most of the protesters were charged with obstructing traffic, a misdemeanor in Florida. They were given court dates and released in the middle of the night, after a jailhouse solidarity protest called by the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition (JPC).
However one protester, Siddie Friar, was charged with two felonies – one for resisting arrest with violence and the other for assaulting an officer. Friar was held longer, and State Attorney Angela Corey pushed the judge to raise her bond. Corey's office sent several attorneys who presented printouts of Friar's Facebook posts to argue for raising her bond. The judge kept her bond the same, and later that night, activists from the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and the JPC bonded her out.
Most of the protesters, the Jacksonville 19, are scheduled for court appearances in late December. The Jacksonville Progressive Coalition and other groups are calling on State Attorney Angela Corey to drop all charges against the protesters and return all seized items immediately.