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‘The tone has changed:’ Tampa Police encourage peaceful protesters to stay home after 41 arrests for looting and violence

Five business were set aflame after peaceful protests gave way to chaos.

Tampa Police plan to up their efforts to combat riots after overnight looting and violence caused mass destruction in the University area.

Sparked by outrage over the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis, 41 people were arrested Saturday night and into the wee hours of Sunday morning.

Champs Sports and a Mobile last station were burned down while three others were set aflame in less aggressive blazes. About 40 businesses were burglarized and looted, according to Tampa Police Chief Brian Dugan.

“I would expect more arrests tonight if we have a similar situation,” Dugan said.

“We took a hard stance last night and I think we are going to take an even harder stance tonight,” he continued.

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Dugan declined to go into specifics saying officers would be “flexible” and that the department “has plans,” a “better game plan.”

He encouraged those who wish to peacefully protest to stay home.

“It is a different tone right now,” Dugan said, noting that officers would not tolerate additional lawlessness.

Tampa Mayor Jane Castor condemned the night’s escalation. Peaceful demonstrations gave way to rioting and looting sometime around 6 p.m., she said, with protesters beginning to throw bottles, rocks and fireworks at officers.

One Tampa Police officer was treated for minor burns after being struck by a mortar. A Hillsborough County Sheriff’s deputy was also taken to the hospital after being struck by an object, according to Sheriff Chad Chronister.

Castor did not say whether the city or county would employ drastic measures like instituting a curfew.

“I’ll make a decision that’s in the best interest of our community,” she said.

Late Saturday night the University of South Florida texted warnings to students and faculty about shots fired in the area related to “civil unrest.”

Dugan said the agency had not yet confirmed whether there were shots fired or, if there were, if they were related to the escalated protests.

Tampa wasn’t alone in seeing tensions boil over.

A protest in Jacksonville Saturday afternoon and into the evening turned chaotic as police deployed tear gas and flash bangs to disperse crowds.

In Tallahassee, a truck plowed through a crowd of protesters.

The unrest prompted the city of Lauderhill in Broward County to cancel a planned Sunday protest citing safety concerns.

“What I saw was shameful. What I saw was also heartbreaking for a community,” Castor said. “Physical violence and looting are not the answer. They are simply criminal behavior, behavior that solves nothing.”

While both Castor and Dugan condemned the rioting and violence, they stood with peaceful protesters who, only hours before tensions reached a boiling point, both marched in solidarity with those seeking justice for George Floyd.

“I’m against police brutality. The mayor is against police brutality. The Mayor would fire me if I tolerated that,” Dugan said.

Added Castor, “There are systemic problems that must be addressed in our community … We share your anger over the death of George Floyd … We share your hopes and expectations.”

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at Janelle@floridapolitics.com.

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