Polk Curfew Extended to Tonight 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.

A curfew placed on Polk County residents Sunday night in the wake of protesters blocking a busy intersection has been extended to today. It takes effect from 8 p.m. tonight until 5 a.m. Tuesday, Sheriff Grady Judd announced at a news conference this afternoon.

The curfew does not apply for people traveling to or from work or medical appointments. Also, residents can walk pets in their neighborhoods during the curfew. However, gasoline sales have been suspended during the curfew period.

“The reason for (the curfew) is clear,” Judd said. “We’ve had criminal conduct of thugs; we’ve had citizens injured; we’ve had windows broken; and we’ve had other attempts at assaulting law enforcement officers and assaulting buildings that we repelled.”

A large group of people blocked the intersection of Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard late Sunday afternoon. After the crowd refused to leave, police used tear gas and pepper spray in attempts to get them to disperse.

No looting has been reported in Lakeland. Damage to buildings seems to be limited to a broken window at Bike Barn on Florida Avenue just south of Memorial.

Judd said today he believes the instigators came from out of town and he questioned claims that a woman was hurt when a car tried to make its way through the crowd since no victim has come forward.

Two hours after Judd announced the curfew would be extended, Lakeland city commissioners adopted a resolution mirroring the county’s curfew and giving City Manager Tony Delgado the authority to call another curfew if deemed necessary based on police intelligence.

Police Chief Ruben Garcia said that if another curfew is needed, he suspects it won’t be until the weekend, but he doesn’t expect to have the intel needed to request a curfew until closer to the weekend.

Delgado’s authority to call a curfew lasts until Sunday night. If he and the police chief feel curfews might be needed after that, the City Commission will meet next Monday at 9 a.m. to discuss extending it.

Commissioner Stephanie Madden questioned the need to start the curfew at 8 rather than 10, saying it seems punitive to small businesses who had to close or reduce hours during coronavirus restrictions.

Mayor Bill Mutz said the earlier time is needed because Tampa’s curfew starts at 7:30 and local officials don’t want to leave an opening for Tampa troublemakers to come to Lakeland after the curfew starts there.

The city curfew resolution passed unanimously after commissioners discussed Sunday’s events for a little more than one hour.

Late this afternoon, a small group of protesters gathered peacefully outside the LPD headquarters, Fox 13 News reported.

The morning after

There were few signs in Lakeland this morning of a confrontation between police and protesters at the intersection of Florida Avenue and Memorial Boulevard other than bags of trash along sidewalks and some trash still strewn in the parking lot of Salem’s Fresh Eats.

Likewise, things looked normal for a Monday morning at Munn Park, the scene of a peaceful demonstration organized by Black Lives Matter’s Polk County branch where several hundred people — some say 1,000 or more — circled the park Sunday afternoon carrying signs and chanting about justice in the wake of the killing of Floyd George by Minneapolis police.

The crimson car

Questions have been raised about a dark red car that tried to get through the crowd and reportedly hit a woman, knocking her down. Some young men jumped on the sedan and smashed its front and backs windshields before the driver was able to get away.

Holding a photo of a man on top of the car at today’s press briefing, Judd said, “The man standing on top of this car with windows smashed in is not a protester,” Judd said. “He’s a rioter. That’s evil and it’s criminal and it’s wrong.”

Judd said local police have repeatedly asked for the person who was hit to identify herself, and nobody has. If somebody identifies themself as the victim, authorities will investigate he said.

One person who commented on our article about last night’s 10 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew said the gathering at Florida and Memorial felt more like a party until the woman was hit by a car and then an ugly mood took over.

Here are a couple of photos taken by freelance photographer Michael Wilson for The Ledger, which makes its original content available for non-commercial use under a Creative Commons license. One of them shows a woman on the ground in front of the car.

Michael Wilson / The Ledger A woman is down. A windshield is smashed.
Michael Wilson / The Ledger The car drives away,

And here’s video shared on Twitter:

https://twitter.com/ChameshaF/status/1267212887598272514

Instigators

Judd displayed another photo during the press briefing — one that showed a man wearing a gas mask and protective clothing.

“This is an organized rioter,” he said. “This person did not come to Lakeland yesterday to exercise his First Amendment right … This person was here to create problems. Our local police officers and deputies said they noticed cars with out-of-county and out-of-state plates. We saw that the antagonists that were at Florida Avenue and the Boulevard — the ones that were generating the energy — were not local folks. They came here to create problems.”

In addition, many protesters posting to social media from the Munn Park rally earlier in the day said a small number of attendees tried to escalate the event into an attack on the nearby Lakeland Police headquarters or other violence, but the event organizers from the local Black Live Matters affiliate urged calm.

Several photos and videos showed an alleged instigator wearing a red T-shirt and camouflage mask.

Near the end of the Munn Park event, the man in the red shirt said he had been pepper sprayed in Orlando, shouted, “We need to be in the streets!” and urged others to storm the police station, rally organizer Mercedes Werbinkski told The Ledger.

He led a splinter group to LPD headquarters on Massachusetts Avenue and then a third group to Florida and Memorial, The Ledger reported.

A Ledger reporter posted a photo of him and two other possible instigators on Facebook in an attempt to identify him:

The events

Both the peaceful afternoon protest at Munn Park and the evening confrontation were well documented by photos and videos on social media, including a short video on the LkldNow Facebook page shot by Trinity Laurino, our community engagement director.

A search of Facebook or Instagram will show a lot more footage of both events.

The most thorough reporting we’ve seen came from Kimberly C. Moore of The Ledger, who covered both the Munn Park rally and the evening confrontation. In addition, the morning newspaper published two photo galleries of the confrontation, one of the Munn Park rally and several videos on the newspaper’s YouTube channel, which is not behind a pay meter.

In addition, Bruce Anderson, a Florida Southern College political science professor, offered a dispassionate account of what he witnessed as a driver encountering the Florida-Memorial blockage and a dismantling of some of the inaccurate rumors he encountered online.

At today’s briefing, Garcia said that his officers made two arrests stemming from Sunday night’s confrontation. One of them involved a man who sat in the middle of the intersection after the crowd dispersed and refused to leave, Assistant Chief Hans Lehman said. He was charged with violation of curfew during a declared emergency. Another person was charged with unlawful assembly.

Judd’s warning

Police have seen social media claims that criminal conduct would spread to “the neighborhood” tonight, Judd said. He issued this warning:

“I would tell them, if you value your life, you probably shouldn’t do that in Polk County,” Judd said. “Because the people of Polk County like guns, they have guns, I encourage them to own guns, and they’re going to be inside their homes tonight with their guns loaded. And if you try to break into their homes tonight and try to steal, to set fires, I’m highly recommending they blow you back out of the house with their guns.”

Lakeland local emergency and curfew resolution:

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