Almost six months ago, on Sept. 5, a group of approximately 100 people, led by the Tallahassee Community Action Committee, walked to the state Capitol to protest a Leon County grand jury ruling.
The grand jury failed to find fault with the three police officers involved in the shooting deaths of three Black residents: Tony McDade, Wilibon Woodward and Mycheal Johnson. After being confronted by police in a parking lot before the rally began, the protesters continued on, undeterred by the threat of law enforcement.
The nonviolent protesters took to the streets demanding justice for their slain brethren. What began as a peaceful exercise of constitutional rights ended in violence, chaos and incarceration.
During the protest, 14 people were arrested for unlawful assembly, and four people were later arrested with fill-in-the-blank warrants. The group has since started calling themselves the Tally19.
The aforementioned Tally19 faced felonies for “public disorder.” After vigorous and incessant fighting against the felony charges, most of the group members have had their charges reduced to misdemeanors. However, Tally19er Ben Grant is the last member of the group who is still facing felony charges. These charges include a minimum of 10 years in prison and a possible $10,000 fine.
During a recent press conference in front of the Leon County Courthouse, Grant expressed his anguish and the harsh reality he is facing. “I am now staring down a barrel of 10 years of prison time,” Grant said. “We did not ask for this to happen to us, we just asked to be listened to.”
Grant said the police with aggressors with uncapped power: “There is ample video of us being brutalized by the police, there are videos of us being dragged by our hair, yet no one speaks on that as assault. They [police officers] have free will to do whatever they want to us. That should not stand.”
While the Tally19 are fighting against Grant’s felony charges, another pending doom looms. Last week, a Florida House of Representatives committee passed HB-1 — also known as the anti-riot bill — which will ultimately criminalize those who enact public disorder. Public disorder includes nonviolent protesters who block traffic.
If approved by both chambers and signed by Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has been advocating for this legislation, the bill would become law July 1, 2021.
Grant said the bills would do more harm than good. “They can arrest people en masse and would literally have the freedom to do so …. the legislation will give them even further power to do the same to even more people. To ruin the lives of people who decide to speak out.”
America was born out of protest and it is demeaning that the same country that champions the right to peaceably assembly is also the same country infringing on the rights of its citizens. The road to justice has been strenuous and tiresome.
But the Tally19ers continue to press on. The threat of felony charges has terrified the demonstrators, but not enough to keep them silent.