As Florida enters Phase 3 of reopening, allowing all businesses to open across the state, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman is both thanking the Governor and offering a thinly veiled jab.
Speaking at the Birchwood in downtown St. Pete Friday, Gov. Ron DeSantis lauded St. Pete and Pinellas County for its success in controlling COVID-19 as he announced the state’s next step into Phase 3.
“Thank you to Gov. Ron DeSantis highlighting Pinellas County’s progress on COVID-19 (We are now at 2.7% positivity / rolling two week average!). As Floridians are suffering, COVID is exactly what they need him to focus on. I look forward to seeing the details of his COVID order,” Kriseman wrote on Facebook shortly after the Governor’s announcement.
While DeSantis was in town to announce the latest reopening, he also addressed recent protests following the grand jury indictment in Kentucky that only levied charges against one of three police officers involved in the shooting death of Breonna Taylor and not specifically for her death.
Protests in St. Pete this week were mostly peaceful, but critics, particularly Republicans, immediately began complaining about an incident in front of Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive in which protesters sat down at a table while a couple was dining and began yelling at them.
“What we saw here in St. Petersburg the other night with mobs harassing innocent people who were just enjoying a meal at a restaurant is simply unacceptable,” DeSantis said Friday. “You should be able to do that in peace without having some lunatic come up and yell in your face.”
DeSantis used the incident to defend his “Combatting Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act,” which would create new offenses targeting violence at protests, increases penalties and implement other hard-line actions. One “citizen and taxpayer protection measure” would prohibit state grants and aid to local governments that slash law enforcement budgets, a direct counter to the “Defund the Police” movement.
Democrats have been critical of the measure, arguing it would be redundant legislation by outlawing crimes that are already outlawed. Kriseman, himself a Democrat, hasn’t addressed the proposal specifically, but implied his distaste in his Facebook post Friday afternoon.
By saying, “COVID is exactly what they need him to focus on,” Kriseman seems to insinuate the Governor’s proposed actions on protesters is a distraction for which the state does not need right now.
Still, DeSantis hammered his point home Friday, with St. Pete’s unrest as a backdrop.
“Go out and protest until your heart is content … no one is going to begrudge that,” DeSantis said. “That’s what the country is all about. The minute that crosses over from just peaceful assembly to where you’re harassing someone else or you’re intimidating or threatening them, particularly when they’re in a public accommodation like a restaurant … that is unacceptable, we’re not going to allow it.”