by Jeremy Morrison, Inweekly
After a wild weekend that saw Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson commit to a group of protesters blocking the roadway at the foot of the bay bridge that he would place a member of Pensacola Dream Defenders on a yet-to-be formed police oversight and advisory board, the mayor said Monday that he hoped there would not be “any more foolishness.”
“We don’t want a situation where people are going back in the road again, that’s going to slow us down,” Robinson said during his weekly press conference. “If we see this behavior happen going forward, it will slow the progress. It will grind it to a halt.”
Saturday’s roadway blockade—formed by the protesters linking arms and refusing to budge — was an offshoot action from a protest at nearby Graffiti Bridge, where hundreds of people gathered to decry systemic racism within the ranks of law enforcement. The protests on the site, mirroring similar events across the nation, began following the killing of George Floyd, an African-American man who died as a white Minneapolis police officer knelt with his knee on the handcuffed man’s neck.
“There’s nothing I agreed to in the middle of the road that I would not have agreed to on the side of the road.” – Mayor Grover Robinson.
The group of protesters blocking the bay bridge was led by Hale Morrissette, a member of community organization Pensacola Dream Defenders. Mayor Robinson has been in discussions with the Dream Defenders since the group issued a list of demands following last summer’s death of Tymar Crawford, a local black man who was shot multiple times at close range during a traffic stop by former Pensacola Police detective Daniel Siemen.
The list of demands was what the protesters wanted to speak with Robinson about. The demands include addressing bias issues within the PPD, deprioritizing low-level crimes such as marijuana possession, demilitarizing the police force and the formation of the citizen oversight board.
While Robinson demurred on a number of the demands—saying the asks were either out of the city’s purview or should be put to a popular vote—the mayor did agree to place Morrissette on the citizen oversight board that Dream Defenders has been pushing for.
On Monday, Mayor Robinson said the roadway blockade did not figure into his calculus on that decision. The Dream Defenders, he said, were always going to have a seat at the table.
“There’s nothing I agreed to in the middle of the road that I would not have agreed to on the side of the road,” Robinson said.
Long Time Comin’
The citizen oversight and advisory board is a key element of the demands issued by the Dream Defenders. The group sees the committee as an opportunity to hold local law enforcement accountable for their actions.
“Committees usually take a long time to pull together and figure out what they’re doing.”–Robinson
The Dream Defenders want the committee formed prior to July 5, the one-year anniversary of Crawford’s death. It doesn’t look like that’s going to happen.
“I don’t think we’re going to make July 5th,” Robinson said Monday. “I think it will happen by October, that’s my goal.”
The mayor said that it was always the city’s goal to establish the oversight committee after it focused internally on the PPD, an effort being facilitated by Cedric Alexander, a retired law enforcement officer with a national reputation for addressing such matters. The city’s focus would have already shifted, he said, if not for changes brought about by the coronavirus pandemic.
“Committees usually take a long time to pull together and figure out what they’re doing,” Robinson said, explaining the prolonged timeline.
Another reason the city is looking five months down the road is that the mayor wants Alexander to conduct a series of public input sessions in order to get a read on what exactly the community is looking for in the committee. He’s expecting from four to six input sessions, including at least one online forum.
“He wants to have town halls north, south, east and west in the community,” Robinson said.
Protesters Asked to Move
The protests at Graffiti Bridge on 17th Avenue have lasted more than a week now. But it could be relocated this week.
“Obviously, there’s a lot of traffic challenges,” Mayor Robinson said Monday. “We realize that it’s got to move somewhere from there.”
The mayor said that he had spoken with protest organizer Kyle Cole and informed him that the protest could remain at Graffiti Bridge until Floyd is laid to rest.
“I indicated to Mr. Cole, if they need to stay there until Wednesday, that’s fine,” Robinson said, adding that there was available space near Pensacola City Hall.