Speaking out: Peaceful protests crop up in Southwest Florida in wake of killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police officer
As cries ring out across communities nationwide for equality in the form of protests, local civil rights organizations, community members and law enforcement leaders are speaking out regarding the current climate in the nation.
In Fort Myers over the weekend and on Monday, hundreds took to the downtown area, police station and courthouse, gathering to peacefully exercise their First Amendment rights.
These protests came as part of hundreds taking place across the country and globe, after George Floyd, a 46-year-old black man, died while being held down with a knee to the neck by now-former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin. Chauvin, who has been fired, arrested and charged with second-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter, put pressure on the back of Floyd’s neck with his knee while Floyd laid on his stomach in handcuffs for more than eight minutes. He was originally charged with third-degree murder, but the charge was upgraded on Wednesday to second degree.
Three other officers involved in the incident have also been fired. They were charged Wednesday with aiding and abetting second degree murder and aiding and abetting second degree manslaughter.
Video of the scene show two of the officers putting pressure on Floyd’s body while he was in custody. Floyd told officers he could not breathe, while bystanders, one of whom filmed the incident, pleaded for the officers to stop holding him down and allow him to get up.
Protestors in Fort Myers chanted, “I can’t breathe!” “Black Lives Matter!” and “Say his name! George Floyd” while displaying signs calling for racial equality and the end of police brutality around the globe.
“I felt a lot of love at the protest,” said Fort Myers resident Isrrael Pena Jr., who attended Sunday’s peaceful protest. “Just walking and seeing the people in front of you, behind you and beside you, knowing that they’re there with their heart and an open mind, and just knowing that there’s truly love for people. That’s what I felt; love.”
While many of the protests around the country this week have remained largely peaceful during the daylight hours, vandalism and looting have dominated the night. The demonstrations in Fort Myers over the weekend remained peaceful.
Part of the protest Sunday included a nearly nine-minute moment of silence in honor of Floyd, representing the amount of time he was held down by the three police officers.
Cape, area officials weigh in
Cape Coral Police Department Chief David Newlan issued a statement on the death of Floyd and the current climate of the United States on Saturday.
“As a nation, we are all shocked and outraged by the actions of four Minneapolis Police Department officers as they arrested George Floyd. Floyd tragically died as a result of the encounter, whereby the officers acted outside of acceptable training, policy, and tactics,” Newlan said in his statement. “As a 30-year law enforcement professional, and current Chief of Police, I have never seen or heard of a tactic whereby an officer kneels on an individual’s neck. Much less someone already handcuffed, prone, and non-combative. I, along with my officers, share the outrage and disappointment with the actions taken by these former officers.”
Newlan shared his sympathies for the Floyd family and those who mourn his death.
He stated the CCPD “demand(s) accountability” from its officers and “demand that all lives are treated with dignity and respect. Even those who are being arrested.”
“Yes, there are times that we have to use force. However we are trained to utilize reasonable force necessary to accomplish lawful objectives. Rest assured, any deviations from these standards are not tolerated,” Newlan said. “Valuing our American freedoms, protecting life, and serving others is in our organizational DNA.”
Newlan closed with, while the department supports and encourages peaceful protests, officers will not let property damage or destruction occur.
” We have seen images of peaceful protests that turned violent across the country. The Cape Coral Police Department supports American citizens in their constitutional right to peacefully assemble. We will even be present to protect that right and ensure everyone’s safety,” he said. “However, we will not stand idly by and let violence and the destruction of property occur.
“In closing, I believe that we as Americans will get through this challenge, like we have countless others. Working together, with trust and respect, justice will be done. And this, I believe, can be George Floyd’s legacy.”
Cape Coral Councilmember John Gunter also addressed the issue at the beginning of Monday’s City Council meeting.
“In many cities across the county, there exists some racial division due to the most recent events in Minneapolis,” he said. “Let’s please pray for all of the individuals, the families, the police officers and the communities that are affected by these events. Let’s pray that, first and foremost, we’re all human beings first and we should be treated with equality, respectfulness — just as we all deserve.”
Last Friday, Fort Myers Police Chief Derrick Diggs also released a statement addressing the events surrounding Floyd’s death.
“When I assumed my leadership role with the Fort Myers Police Department four years ago, my primary goal was to build bridges between our police officers and the community we serve by increasing our positive engagement within our city,” Diggs said. “I believe this department is well on its way to building those bridges and we remain dedicated to these endeavors.
“In my effort to build the community’s trust, I ensure the Fort Myers Police Department continuously provides ongoing training to ensure our officers are current with the ever-changing case law, technology, applied tactical procedures, and attitude regarding fair and impartial policing.”
Diggs went on to say that FMPD is constantly evolving, learning and growing, and has been able to decrease violent crime in the area dramatically in the last four years.
He hopes the officers involved in Floyd’s death will be brought to justice, and that any actions similar from FMPD officers will not be condoned.
“As a 40-year law enforcement professional, I trust that justice will ultimately be served in Minneapolis against the officers involved in this tragic incident, as their actions or inactions are unacceptable and would not be tolerated in Fort Myers,” Diggs said. “With that said, be assured that the Fort Myers Police Department is True to our Community, True to our Commitment, and True to our City.”
The Lee County NAACP chapter organized a peaceful protest Monday afternoon, also in Fort Myers at the U.S. Federal Building on First Street.
The civil rights group on its Facebook page thanked Diggs and Lee County Sheriff Carmine Marceno after the protest for their thoughts on the matter and providing them with a safe place to demonstrate.
A second NAACP-organized event was scheduled to take place, but has been scrapped for now, according to its Facebook page.
Lee County NAACP President James Muwakkil shared this message on the social media platform: “Due to safety concerns, we will NOT be holding a follow-up rally as previously planned. However, please continue to follow our (Facebook) Page and we will post any updates to come.”
Pena Jr. said while as a Latino male he does not know what it’s like to be black in America, the message for all on Sunday was that Black Lives Matter, and that police brutality against black Americas has gone on far too long.
“There’s support for our black community here in Fort Myers,” Pena Jr. said. “I myself could never truly understand how our black brothers and sisters may feel exactly, I hope they know we are with them.”
-Connect with this reporter on Twitter: @haddad_cj
Editor’s Note: This story has been updated to reflect new charges against the officers officials say were involved with the death.