St. Petersburg Police will be on the streets this weekend in anticipation of potential conflicts between protest groups.
“You will see a visible presence this weekend,” Police Chief Anthony Holloway told City Council members Thursday.
Holloway said he would not discuss specific operational plans publicly but would talk to Council members individually about weekend plans.
Police are preparing for what could be a repeat of last weekend, when two groups of opposing protestors squared off on Beach Drive.
Holloway told council members that police have been in the background, ready to respond during ongoing protests over the past few months in St. Petersburg, as members of a group called St. Pete Peace Protest conducted what were largely peaceful marches.
On Saturday, a group of counter protesters showed up.
Five squads of police were present but the major in charge did not use the resources given to him correctly, Holloway said.
“I will be here this Saturday so I know what will be done and how we will do it,” Holloway said.
On Tuesday, Holloway joined Mayor Rick Kriseman at a press conference where Holloway said police are looking for three people – two who pulled out knives and the one with the gun — in connection with the Saturday incident.
At that press conference, Kriseman said he would not tolerate violence on either side in the city.
About six people called into an online meeting of the St. Petersburg City Council Thursday asking city officials, and Kriseman specifically, to denounce white supremacy.
“White supremacy doesn’t just take shape on the right. White supremacy is insidious. It’s present in the right and the left and everywhere in between. It’s not enough to point to conservatives. It has to be dismantled in progressive cities like St. Pete as well,” said one of the callers, Rev. Andy Oliver of Allendale United Methodist Church.
Kriseman responded to the callers, saying the comments he made during the press conference were being twisted.
“Let me be very clear about this. In no way do I support white supremacists. In no way do I condone the actions or behavior of white supremacists. I’m Jewish. For my entire life I have fought racism and discrimination. All we have talked about since I was elected in this city is about celebrating diversity, tolerance and being a city that welcomes all people,” Kriseman said during the council meeting.
The mayor also repeated his call to “turn the temperature down.”
Holloway told the City council that the best way to back police was for citizens to stay home and stay out of the way. He said he’s spoken to Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri if the city needs help.
“This police department can handle this issue. This police department will handle this issue,” Holloway said.
Council member Robert Blackmon offered a motion to request police enforce traffic laws that would keep all protestors out the street. The motion did not advance, as other council members said they did not want to tell police how to handle the situation.
Deputy Mayor Kanika Tomalin asked members of the St. Pete Peace Protest group to set an example by maintaining their peaceful marches.
“I hope everyone who called in earlier understands that the work of advancement toward equity is not solely on your shoulders. It is a goal that is shared by everyone who serves this city and particularly championed by the leadership of this city,” Tomalin said. “In no way should you feel called into a manufactured showdown on Saturday. You do not have to show up to a manufactured showdown to ensure that righteousness unfolds in our city in systematic ways.”