NAACP encourages protesters to consider diversion offer

By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook staff writer

An offer that state attorney Jack Campbell made to protesters to attend a race relation summit instead of doing community service is worth serious consideration, the head of the local NAACP said.

However, Adner Marcelin, president of the local NAACP, also said protesters have the right to trial if they want to opt for that instead of the offer to attending the race relation summit that the city is putting on Thursday. The free summit will be a virtual event.

Marcelin said the offer from state attorney Jack Campbell is “a fair option and they need to give it fair consideration.”

He added: “Ultimately if they feel that they have not done anything wrong and this is a punishment, they can certainly go to trial.”

The offer from Campbell is the result of several arrests that were made during a Sept. 5 protest. Law enforcement clashed with protesters when officers showed up in riot gear.

In all, 19 people were arrested on a variety of charges. Three of those were charges with felonies, which Campbell said makes them ineligible for the Second Judicial Circuit’s diversion program.

Ten of the protesters who were arrested are members of the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, which organized the Sept. 5 protest. It was one of several marches and protests that the organization had been staging since May, following the death of George Floyd in police custody.

City Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox
Photo by St. Clair Murraine

They were also protesting a grand jury decision that the action of officers involved in three shootings was justified.

Trish Brown, a recent candidate for city commission and a TCAC member, was at the center of the clash with police. She was given a citation for driving too slowly, and charged with resisting arrest without violence and unlawful assembly.

Brown said the offer from Campbell is the same as probation “in a pretty package.”
She won’t be attending the summit because on the day of the protest she was exercising her First Amendment rights, she said.

“I’m not taking the diversion program (because) I didn’t do anything wrong, but expressed my First Amendment rights to protest and march,” Brown said. “That’s our God-given right and no one should be trying to take that away from us. I didn’t do any harm to anybody.”

Campbell said he came up with the offer because he doesn’t want the protesters to face jail time.

“I’m putting a very, very lenient diversion,” Campbell said. “I’m accommodating everybody I can. I’m trying to make this a learning experience on both sides.”

Several of the protesters have indicated that they won’t take the offer because it implies guilt. The other option would be for them to do 10 hours of community service, Campbell said.

“We could figure out some other type of community service or interaction where we educated them on safe and lawful protests,” Campbell said.

The offer from Campbell, which was presented in mid-October, was discussed in a Sept. 23 meeting, said city Commissioner Dianne Williams-Cox. Several Law enforcement officials, Campbell and Marcelin were among those who attended, she said.

State Attorney Jack Campbell

Williams-Cox called the offer “an easy way out” and one that would prevent them from having a criminal record.

“Jack, at least, is trying to do some things differently,” she said. “I’m not a cheerleader for him but when I see somebody is trying to do something to help, then you’ve got to recognize it for what it is.”

Marcelin, an attorney, echoed her sentiment.

“I’m here for equality, but the bottom line is no one needs to have a criminal background that’s going to hold them back in life,” he said. “You’re going to be limited in your job options. You’re going to be limited in getting professional licenses.

“This situation has caused enough damage. We need to put this situation behind us and move forward in the best manner possible.”
Ironically, a few days after the offer from Campbell, the Tallahassee Community Action Committee held a press conference decrying Governor Ron DeSantis’ law-and-order proposal intended to crack down on protesters.

DeSantis went into details about the proposals, which he would like lawmakers to take up when they come to Tallahassee for an organizational meeting on Nov. 17.

The governor’s measure proposes to make it a felony when a protest result in property damage or injuries.

Traffic obstruct, which as what Brown was charged with, would also become a crime if seven or more people are involved.
The governor drew fire during the virtual press conference held last Thursday.

“They assume that Tallahassee protesters as well as protesters across the state of Florida have been acting in a violent and disorderly manner,” said Delilah Pierre, spokes person for TCAC. “They punish people for enacting their democratic rights. They punish people for doing what they can to stop police brutality in the state. It’s ridiculous that things have to even come to this point.”

Since DeSantis’ plan was released, it has been opposed as being unconstitutional. Attorney Bill Davis expressed concern about what reaction against the law-and-order proposal could look like.

“The leaders of our country, for generations,” he said, “have said if you make peaceful revolution impossible you make violent revolution inevitable.”

At least three other speakers participated in the press conference. One of them was Sylvia Hubbard, the executive director for The Minority Alliance for Advocating Community Awareness and Action, Inc.

She said the proposed law is “the old Jim Crow tactic of fear,” while offering encouragement to activists.

“Don’t allow them to stop your protest,” she said. “You should be on the steps of the Capitol protesting about Ron DeSantis trying to put felony (charges) on people. Don’t be afraid.”

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