Hillsborough students take part in protests raging the country

2020 graduates Duncan Mcewen and Frederico Jenrette marched at the protest in downtown Tampa on Thursday.

Gathered on the sidewalk this Thursday, right outside the Glazer Childrens Museum, a sea of masked faces and cardboard signs joined together to protest the systemic racism of the police system and police brutality against black Americans. The movement was most recently stirred up by the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. 

The plan was simple. 

The protestors would walk down Ashley, passing the parking lot near the children’s museum and the library. Down and around the construction near the Straz Center where Mill Creek apartment residents will soon move in, the construction workers peering down, most filming on their phones, some waving, and the others standing still, watching the protesters walk by. 

At the intersection of Laurel and Doyle Carlton Drive the masses walked down Laurel toward I-275. A couple more blocks and the Tampa Police Department would arrive, dressed in helmets and vests, holding shields and batons like they were ready for war. Through a speaker phone they gave a three-minute warning to disperse to the approaching crowd of protesters. 

“We were walking to armature works and suddenly we got tear gassed,” rising senior Ariana Petrocky said. “It was awful…there were people crying because they got hit with tear gas.” Tear gas is a group of chemicals used to disperse groups, mainly protestors and causes eye irritation, coughing, difficulty breathing and skin irritation. Then, Petrosky described, “there this cop came with a full swat uniform on and a big gun and came lunging at people.” 

She and her friends ran. 

Meanwhile, in a black hoodie with the words “#blacklivesmatter,” “No Justice No Peace” and “Prosecute the Police,” on the front, 2020 graduate Johnathan Doan walked through the protestors with a squeeze bottle full of milk, stopping to help anyone who was injured by the pepper spray or tear gas. Milk is said to help with the effects of both. 

The Tampa police reaction to the peaceful protests and the curfew set by Mayor Jane Castor after a violent protest near university mall have caused a lot of controversy between the mayor and her previous supporters.

Rising junior Ivy Burton-Akright has attended multiple peaceful protests in Tampa, the second of which was tear gassed by the police. “This violence as well as the curfew set by the city drove me and my friend to leave the protest early,” she said. “Honestly, we were both scared by the police and appalled that, while Castor was seen hours before talking with protesters, she called for a curfew that would result in the arrest of those same people.”

Other than the moments of fear, the protests have been powerful to Hillsborough students that have attended. 

Howard Flemming, a 2020 graduate, participated in a protest in Temple Terrace. 

It was both powerful and emotional, the chants, speeches, signs with powerful messages,” he said. “There was a sign that said, ‘AM I NEXT.’ Everybody had a voice of their own and we kept pushing through.” He decided to attend because the black community that he is a part of is hurting and he wanted his voice to be heard. 

2020 graduate Nyliah Clark attended the protest on May 30. During a short break between the chants, Clark began to drum on her poster and people began to dance.

 “Everyone just seemed a little happier,” she said. “This actually brought me to tears, because in the media protestors have started to be depicted as ‘thugs’ or ‘violent’ but at that very moment to be able to see happiness in so many people during a dark time really made me emotional.”

The protests continue through the weekend and on. According to Petrocky, it’s not the time to be silent. 

“If you sit by and stay silent, you’re part of the problem,” she said. 

Rising senior Aedan Bennett agrees in using his privilege as a white person to help out the cause. “I’m not sure if it’s my place to speak up but I feel like this is everyone’s fight and if I can use my privilege in any way to help fight injustice then I will,” he said.

Some students have chosen to take action through social media, such as showing solidarity in the Black Out Tuesday Instagram movement. Burton-Akright doesn’t believe that just posting is enough. 

Although posting on social media helps the black lives matter movement spread around the community we have here, protesting is how we’ll get the government to listen,” Burton-Akright said.