FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A pickup truck drove through a crowd of protesters Saturday in Florida’s capital, sending some running and screaming as protests across the state erupted in violence, especially in Miami where police cruisers were burned and authorities threw tear gas.
Video shows Tallahassee protesters walking around the truck as it stopped at a traffic light, while some appeared to speak to the driver. In one video, a bottle was apparently smashed against the widow and the truck then suddenly accelerated, knocking several people to the side, but no serious injuries were reported.
Saturday’s protest demanding justice for George Floyd was one of several in Florida and dozens across the nation. Demonstrators outraged over Floyd’s death faced off against heavily-armed officers in other states Friday, with some smashing police cars, ransacking businesses and setting fires that smoldered through the night.
An officer, who is seen on video pressing his knee on Floyd’s neck for several minutes as Floyd begged for air, was charged Friday in Floyd’s death.
Lucas von Hollen, an IT instructor at Florida State University, heard a distinct scream of fear from the the crowd of protesters and saw the burgundy pickup from the second-floor window where he was working
“The truck revved its engines … a couple people got out of the way, but some people didn’t, and it just drove straight through the crowd,” he said.
Witnesses said a group followed the truck, forcing it to stop. Tallahassee Police immediately handcuffed the driver, shut down the street and redirected protesters to another area.
Police did not release the name of the driver or say whether he would face any charges, saying details would be forwarded to the state attorney once the investigation was complete.
“This is an extremely tense, emotional time across the nation,” Chief Lawrence Revell said in a statement. “Mutual respect among all of us is vital.”
Further south in Miami, what started as a peaceful protest turned violent as a small group set fire to multiple police cruisers, prompting police to respond with tear gas and fireworks to disperse the crowd, witnesses said. The mayor set a 10 p.m. curfew.
At one point, Interstate 95 was shut down in both directions as a group of protesters stood on the busy roadway. Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez warned on Twitter that the highway protest was “creating a dangerous situation for themselves and others. This is not the place or way to protest.”
Police officers later used bicycles to push back an increasingly rowdy crowd throwing rocks. Cars were also vandalized, including those belonging to protesters.
“It started off peaceful and we were just walking around chanting stuff, trying to have all our voices heard and when we got to the police department that’s when things started to get a little rowdy,” said Savano Wilkerson, a 22-year-old West Palm Beach resident.
He was overcome by the tear gas, along with others around him.
“I had to get milk poured in my eyes twice because I was hit with the gas twice,” he said.
Police issued a dispersal order, warning protesters they would be arrested for trespassing if they did not leave the area.
“If you resist arrest, you may be subject to other police action, which may include the use of less lethal munitions which could cause significant risk or injury,” Miami-Dade Police said on Twitter.
Liseth Hatta, a 27-year-old student at Florida International University, said the protest was largely peaceful with many in the crowd of about 500 singing and urging each other not to break windows or hurt businesses.
But when they arrived at the police station, another group of protesters also converged there and things escalated within minutes.
“There was a sniper on the roof with the police chief standing next to him and they started throwing smoke bombs to the crowd. Most of them were kids. They couldn’t have been older than 21. Everyone ran away screaming,” she said.
They tried to flee and rushed to the train station to head home, but police closed down the entrance.
“A lot of people tried to get back on the train to leave and they weren’t letting us,” she said. “They basically trapped us in.”
Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina confirmed some were arrested, but said “it’s not a big number.”
“The restraint the officers have shown, I’m incredibly proud of their efforts,” he said, condemning Floyd’s death, adding he should still be alive.
He said police will give protesters a clear order to disperse and an opportunity to obey, but will respond if they ignore orders.
“We’ll be patient,” he said. “We understand people are angry, but for the most part, the majority of people have been peaceful, but unfortunately there’s bad actors and a lot of them have come from other places … and they want to divide us as a community.”
Meanwhile, in Tampa, Florida, protesters smashed store windows and set a gas station ablaze on Saturday night. Some broke into an AT&T store and a jewelry shop after the protests earlier in the day had been peaceful.