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Occupy Tampa echoes protests in New York

Student and local protesters alike advocated for changes, in response to the ongoing Occupy Wall Street protests, with their own counterpart.

Occupy Tampa, a volunteer coalition that advocates for students and local communities, held a protest Saturday in Gaslight Park in downtown Tampa.

Occupy Tampa’s founder Blake Westlake said he helped start the coalition a week ago in response to the Occupy Wall Street protests. The group has grown from six members to more than 3,200 Facebook followers in a week and an estimated 400 were present at Saturday’s protest, according to their Facebook page.

“(It’s to increase) pride for local communities and a chance to do something big for the Tampa Bay area,” he said.

The Occupy Wall Street protests, which have lasted for about two weeks, have been a forum for demonstrators advocating change in government practices and corporate greed.

According to the Associated Press, “critics have accused officers of being heavy-handed, saying they have roughed up people who did nothing wrong. The (New York Police Department) NYPD has disputed that claim.”

Videos showing an NYPD officer using pepper spray against protesters have circulated the Internet and, on Saturday, more than 700 Occupy Wall Street protesters were arrested for blocking traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge, according to the AP.

Occupy Tampa also held a candlelight vigil in memory of Troy Davis, who was executed in Georgia on Sept. 21 and whose funeral was held Saturday. According to the AP, Davis was a 42-year-old convicted of the murder of Savannah police officer Mark McPhail in 1989, and maintained his innocence up until his death.

“(It’s to) mourn the loss of Davis and all others victim to America’s pursuit for justice,” Westlake said.

Christine Perez, a senior majoring in criminal justice, said she joined the protest to support change in the judicial system.

“People are guilty until proven innocent in our current system,” she said. “I had a few things in mind when I said the court system is disgusting … like the nonviolent offenders being sent to jail. I feel like state attorneys try too hard to send a message that they are tough on crime. The prisons are overcrowded and there are insufficient resources to make improvements.”

Perez said the recent controversial execution of Davis stood as a contradiction to the Pledge of Allegiance line, “and justice for all.”

“I think the priority should be to send the most violent offenders to jail or prison,” she said.

Another Occupy Tampa protest will be held Thursday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Gaslight Park, according to the organization’s website, and will include one march around Tampa’s financial district “in solidarity” with Occupy Wall Street and another with St. Pete for Peace.

Westlake said it is important for students to voice their opinions on government decisions.

“Student loans and student incomes are falling victim to America’s corporate greed,” he said. “We will be tomorrow’s business leaders and have a direct impact on whatever communities we live in.”