Williams-Cox calls for calm amidst protests

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

When City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox finally spoke during last Wednesday’s marathon meeting, she pleaded with her peers to help ensure that Tallahassee doesn’t become the next hotspot for fatal protests.

Williams-Cox’s comments came four days after law enforcement officers showed up in riot gear at a protest near the Capitol. Several protestors, mostly members of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, were arrested.

“We have to embrace this moment and make it a teachable moment,” Williams-Cox said. “We are not Portland. We are not Milwaukee. We are not going to become that.”

Protests over racial injustice in Portland and Milwaukee have become political hot buttons because both cities have nightly clashes between law enforcement and protestors. The backdrop has been looting and fires.

Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell was giving an update to the board when commissioners and Mayor John Dailey questioned him about the Sept. 5 incident.

Revell was accompanied during the virtual meeting by Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil, Mark Glass, director of Capitol Police for FDLE, FSU police Chief Terri Brown and State attorney Jack Campbell. Each of the law enforcement agencies was involved in quelling the protest two weekends ago.

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox called on her peers to enter into talks with protesters to bring about change.
Photo by Bob O’Lary

The incident marked the third where law enforcement was called since protesting began in the city over the death of George Floyd in the custody of Minneapolis police officers. Police was on the scene when a red pickup drove through the crowd on May 30 and again on Aug. 29 when a counter-protestor pulled a gun during a skirmish with Black Lives Matter protestors.

Locally protestors have been calling for Revell’s removal and defunding TPD. They also want an overseeing board to monitor law enforcement, along with release of the names of officers involved in three fatal shootings in the city since March.

A grand jury has since cleared the officers, prompting the latest round of protest in the city. As of last Sunday, 19 protestors were charged. 

Campbell told the commission that an investigation into the protestors’ clash with law enforcement is ongoing.

“I have to follow the law,” Campbell said. “I don’t get the luxury of deciding which laws I follow and which laws I don’t. I took an oath to enforce the laws of the state of Florida.”

The “show of force” when officers showed up in riot gear wasn’t planned to happen the way it did, Revell told the commission. The unit showed up after protestors assaulted TPD officers, he said.

TPD initially stepped in to prevent the protesting group from blocking traffic, said Revell, adding that law enforcement and the protestors had an understanding that they won’t impede traffic.

The protester disbanded following the arrests, but Revell had to answer why there was a riot force on the scene. 

He explained they were on standby because of the potential of a clash between the protestors and supporters of President Donald Trump who had a planned rally on the same day. That group, which McNeil said, originated in Alachua County, was eventually directed to caravan around Capital Circle.

A few of the Trump supporters, however, ended up on Apalachee Parkway, but didn’t make it to the Capitol, McNeil said.

After hearing details about the incident, Williams-Cox told the commissioners “We can’t just walk away.”

She added “We’ve got young people who have been charged. We can’t control that. That’s in the state attorney’s office, but we have some young people who need to know why what happened happen and what can be done to prevent it in the future.”

She went on to encourage “some conversations and mend some fences.”

To that, Revell responded: “We have to be able to sit down and talk. We have to be able to come together and work together for change.”