In a show of unprecedented force, the likes of which Tampa has never experienced before, law enforcement officials of every stripe flexed their muscle.
As a Tampa native I can attest it was more like the scene from a Hollywood movie.
With planned protests about to begin on the first day of the Republican National Committee
Convention to nominate Mitt Romney, the streeets of downtown Tampa are on lockdown.
From our position on the corner of Nebraska Avenue and Whiting Street you could clearly
see something was about to happen. On foot (in full riot gear), atop highway overpasses
(manned by sharpshooters), mounted on horseback, on bicycles, in the sky overhead,
and in all manner of motor vehicles ... this was no normal day just southeast of the courthouse.
Tension was palpable. The heavy air and humidity added to the drama. We found ourselves amidst Tampa police department officials, including police chief Jane Castor.
When asked, Ms. Castor responded that "things were going well". It certainly seemed that
way although it wasn't exactly clear who was in charge. The Hillsborough County Sheriff's
Department men/women outnumbered everyone -- then you had those ominous unmarked
black SUVs with Virginia lisence tags circling the perimeter as well.
As the parade began, ultimately making the turn directly in front of us, you could see the precision with which these law enforcement officers had been trained in action. They would move in perfect synchronization to cut off side streets and keep protesters on their path. They were ready to move in to quell any type of uprising. The protesters obliged by remaining peaceful. At times things got loud, but ultimately this parade saw no one get hurt. It was reported later, that one young man had been arrested for refusing to "uncover" his face when asked by authorities. You see, having one's face covered is against the rules.
Tampa looks quite different to those of us who call it our home. The barricades and fencing surrounding the event center cannot be overlooked. It has created the feel of a miniature police state. The bigger question might be, "Why is all this lockdown security even necessary?" It surely seems a touch grand. You can't get anywhere without credentials, and judging by the inability of the law enforcement batallions to smile ... you had better not try.
In a conversation with members of the Florida Chapter of the America Civil Liberties Union it was brought to my attention that law enforcement was doing all it could to balance keeping everyone safe and exercisizing good judgement about when not to intervene. The ACLU representatives were distributing written materials to protesters advising them of their citizen's rights. They were also very gracious in sharing what drinking water they had.
As night fell, the night time security measures continued. The omnipresent "eye in the sky" continued to circle above. The mounted police continued to ride, and sirens and flashing light could be seen and heard everywhere. The first day of the convention concluded without major incident, then again most major businesses were closed in anticipation of tropical storm Isaac.
I don't think we've heard the last of our orderly protesters. As the politicians themselves begin to arrive, this promises to get a whole lot more interesting. Word on the street is, voices are going to get a lot louder and tensions even more tense. Stay tuned.