POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Black Lives Matter and community activists had a message to send to Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd on Wednesday.
“Since they can’t see it, we thought we would write it a little bigger,” said Pastor Clayton Cowart, from the Poor & Minority Justice Association, in front of a massive banner that took a dozen people to hold.
The demonstration, organized by PMJA and Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk, also included a hearse and a casket to represent the victims of police shootings.
“The problem is not protestors. The problem is bad policing,” read the banner in part, which was presented to the sheriff’s office.
The group was protesting the Combating Violence, Disorder and Looting and Law Enforcement Protection Act unveiled by Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Polk County Sheriff’s Office on Monday.
Under the proposed legislation, participating in violent assemblies would be a third degree felony. Tearing down or destroying monuments would be second degree felony. Obstructing roadways would be a third degree felony.
“It is not the rioters and looters that’s the problem. It’s the racial injustice and the police brutality that’s going on within our communities, is what the real problem is,” said Carl Soto, Vice President of Black Lives Matter Restoration Polk.
“This type of bill goes a long way in showing the officers, ‘Hey we got your back. We’re not going to allow you to get hurt out there. We want to put in legislation that protects you’,” said Nick Marolda, president of the West Central Florida Police Benevolent Association. “You want to protest, and you want to do it in a non-violent way, we got it. We got you. We will protect you. When it turns into violence, that’s when it becomes an issue and we get nervous.”
In a statement, Sheriff Judd said he supports peaceful protestors like the one that occurred at his headquarters, which is why he supports the governor’s bill.
“It protects the community from violence, rioting, looting, and vandalism, ensuring the safety of citizens and peaceful protesters, while holding accountable those who would tear down our communities through violence,” wrote Sheriff Judd in a statement.
The pre-planned protest coincided with the news of an indictment handed up by a Kentucky grand jury in the Breonna Taylor case.
One police officer was indicted for shooting into neighboring apartments but no officers will face charges for their role in Taylor’s death.
Taylor, an emergency medical worker, was shot multiple times by officers who entered her home using a no-knock warrant during a narcotics investigation.
“They want to protect law enforcement and they’re sending a message that black lives don’t matter. This is not something that caught me by surprise, but once again, we are disgusted,” said Soto.
The group is planning another protest at Bartow Police Department on Oct. 8.
The issue of search warrant executions will be addressed, according to Cowart.