DELAND, FL.- The pandemic police must have missed this one.
A block party last weekend in Central Florida which drew over 3,000 attendees is drawing criticism of law enforcement authorities, who are being accused of racism and police brutality after they shut down the event.
Police are denying the allegations.
According to USA Today, the block party in Deland, which is about 22 miles from Daytona Beach, started last Saturday and lasted overnight into the next day.
While the event was initially supposed to be a memorial to honor a victim of gun violence, it quickly mutated into a separate function that apparently grew out of control.
That is when law enforcement authorities became involved.
In a joint press conference sponsored by the DeLand Police Department and the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, DeLand police chief Jason Umberger disputed any notion of racism or discrimination toward the black community, however, was due to “lawlessness.”
Police officers were hit with bottles and cups of alcohol as they tried to break up a 3,000-person block party in DeLand, Florida over the weekend where seven people were arrested and one deputy injured. https://t.co/OgUry6oOPi via @YouTube
— alicelilly (@alicelilly1) May 19, 2020
“This incident has nothing to do with race. It has more to do with public safety and law and order,” Umberger said.
“We are out there doing the best that we can to keep a situation as peaceful as we can and someone points a rifle at a law enforcement officer, I mean we’ve got to address that.”
The block party was advertised on social media last week, and while police noted the daytime festivities were pretty quiet, “things started getting out of hand as day turned into night,” according to a statement released by the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.
The sheriff’s office released aerial footage of the event, in which crowds of mostly black people were seen on the video. Officers were overheard talking on the video trying to figure out how to manage and “break up” the large crowds gathered in De Land.
“I think they’re running it until 10, so, just so we don’t have a big problem, let’s let them run it until 10 as long as they behave,” one officer is heard saying on the video.
Umberger noted that neither the city nor the county had issued permits for the block party, which was not unusual because it had begun on private property.
CNN reported that in a statement released Monday on Twitter, Volusia County Sheriff Mike Chitwood said:
“I don’t accept the accusation that we’re racists, or that our actions Saturday were racially motivated. It’s not true, and it’s not a fair conclusion from the video.”
The statement issued by Volusia County sheriffs noted that at around 10:30 p.m on Saturday, a passenger in a vehicle pointed either a rifle or a shotgun out a window in the direction of a deputy and civilians at a gas station.
Later on, shortly after midnight, two deputies walking through the block party saw two men exchange a firearm. A deputy went up the men and told them to drop the gun, at which time one of the men ran away.
The deputy engaged the man in a foot pursuit, during which the man threw the gun. He kept running, however deputies were able to get him to the ground nearby, the statement said.
“Ninety-five percent of the people out there were probably having a good time, but you have 5% who were out there inciting a riot, carrying firearms, selling drugs and destroying the community’s quality of life,” Chitwood said.
A total of seven people were arrested by the Sheriff’s office at the party, including three felons found to be in possession of firearms. Another woman was arrested on suspicion of hitting an officer on the head with a bottle, sheriffs said.
The cousin of the individual the memorial was held for Kenya Alexander said that the block party wasn’t a reflection of the memorial service, which ended at 10pm.
Javi Renee Collier said, “Our memorial didn’t have any drama or problems from 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. All the violence occurred two blocks over and it happened after midnight.”
Alexander was shot on Sept 5, 2008 and died the following day. Collier noted that a memorial has been held annually since 2009, and that the sheriff’s department was aware of the Saturday memorial, where they even brought a command post to the scene.
While the memorial was originally scheduled for March, it was postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic. However, since county officials had opened the beaches last week, they believed it safe to go ahead with the memorial.
While Collier said her family was “appalled by the violence against the police on Saturday,” she said the fact that Chitwood said he was unaware of the memorial and had criticized it had them upset.
“It’s very offensive to our family and our deceased cousin that Sheriff Chitwood lied about not knowing of our memorial and called our event a shit show,” she said. “Everything that happened after our memorial had nothing to do with us or our event.”
Chitwood disagreed however, saying that the roving block parties, as well as the violence toward police officers, included people who had attended the memorial, Chitwood said.
The two individuals who were arrested during the firearm exchange were charged with weapons charges related to being convicted felons, tampering with evidence, inciting a riot and resisting officers without violence. The second man was also charged with possession of a concealed firearm.
After placing the men under arrest, the deputies were hit with a cup of alcohol; while that person was being placed under arrest, one of the deputies was sucker punched by a man who fled the area. Yet another deputy was hit with a bar stool and a DeLand officer was hit with a mason jar. The miscreants continued throwing glass bottles at patrol vehicles in the street while arrests were being made.
CNN reported that one deputy sustained a minor knee injury, while the DeLand officer had a minor head injury suffered when he was hit by the mason jar.
“Not only was this a public safety issue, but it was a matter of public health. No one should be getting together in groups of 50 or more as of today under any circumstances in accordance with the order by Governor DeSantis.
“While we may be reopening different parts of the city, county and state, no one should be having any large gatherings until the governor says it’s safe to do so.”
However, some people who were in attendance claimed that police acted improperly. CNN reported that the West Volusia Beacon newspaper had published comments from unnamed people who were described as participants in the gathering.
“Why do they try to take our humanity? Our pride? It’s not fair to us—we’re all human,” said an unnamed woman.
It is unknown if this particular commenter had noticed men armed with guns and people throwing objects at the police. Regardless, it was said to be the fault of the law enforcement authorities.
CNN noted that social media was where many complaints against law enforcement’s response were lodged, with many people accusing authorities of racial bias and disproportionate policing of black communities.
Apparently, these folks don’t realize that when you get 3,000 people gathering in the middle of a pandemic, it is bound to draw a bit of attention.
As a matter of fact, Sheriff Chitwood’s comment seemed to show that police had not in fact targeted this particular event, when he was asked why police didn’t stop the party when they first learned about it last Wednesday.
“Look at anywhere else in the state of Florida, these events are occurring, so, you’re not going to put the kibosh on it because another one is going to pop up somewhere else.”
Chitwood was asked if the party violated the law and also whether social distancing was enforceable. Chitwood spoke about the fact that social distancing arrests which were made in New York early on in the health crisis were not successful.
“It’s personal responsibility, it’s not law enforcement’s job to enforce quote unquote social distancing,” Chitwood said in response.
“Our officers, we’ve told them, don’t get in the middle of trying to enforce social distancing. You talk about strained community relations with police, now we’re going to tell people they can’t stand—you’re five feet apart, you’re not six—we really need to take a step back and think it through,” Umberger said.
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