OPINION: Drop charges against peaceful protesters

Protesters Jamie Bullock and Chukwudi Uche are being wrongfully charged and tried in Florida for striking an officer and carrying a concealed firearm at a 2020 Tampa protest. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/FLICKR/Fibonacci Blue

Following the protests after the murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, thousands of people took to the streets in Florida to protest police brutality, which led to arrests of multiple individuals who now face charges for their actions.

Jamie Bullock and Chukwudi Uche were accused of striking an officer and carrying a concealed firearm, respectively, during a July 4 protest on North Dale Mabry Highway in Tampa last year, according to the Tampa Bay Times. Bullock allegedly used force against an officer and Uche threw a water bottle then ran to hide in a nearby car, where an officer found him and discovered a firearm in his backpack. Both offenses carry prison time of up to five years. 

Their attorneys argued in court in September that police officers were using excessive force against what was an otherwise peaceful protest. The defendants only reacted to officers releasing pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Bullock and Uche shouldn’t be charged for exercising their right to peacefully assemble. Protesters should have the ability to stand their ground and assert their right to speak freely about police brutality and other injustices in America. 

Charges of unlawful assembly for the two individuals were dropped by Hillsborough Circuit Judge Mark Kiser on Sept. 28. Though a small accomplishment, they will still have to fight to remove charges regarding striking an officer and possessing a concealed weapon.

Florida legislators are already making it their job to protect police and dismiss the concerns of protesters. 

Following numerous Black Lives Matter protests in 2020, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the “anti-riot” bill, or HB 1, April 17 which increased criminal penalties toward defacing public property and assaulting police officers during a riot. The law would also penalize any local government wishing to interfere with the way law enforcement contains riots.

HB 1 was blocked soon after being signed into law. U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker recently prevented enforcement of HB 1 in Florida on Sept. 9, stating the bill is too vague and risks assaulting free speech.

It’s worrying that elected officials in Florida immediately sided with law enforcement after these protests. But through supporting Bullock, Uche and encouraging Kiser to drop the charges, we can keep fighting against police brutality and for the rights of Florida citizens.