I have photographed many crazy things in my life but one of the things I have always wanted to photograph for some odd reason was a riot. Something about people going crazy breaking stuff and acting a fool has been something that has been on my list to shoot for many years. So a few years ago when it was announced that the 2012 Republican National Convention was going to be in Tampa I knew I had my chance to shoot some crazy protestors and rioting.
In 2004 the RNC had hundreds of arrests and thousands of protestors wreaking havoc on Minneapolis so the same or even more was expected here in Tampa. Local law enforcement spent $50 MILLION on security and purchased everything from riot gear, police bikes, segways, and even tactical tanks all to keep the city safe.
The days before the RNC, downtown Tampa and Channelside were turned into a secure zone with thousands of law enforcement officers from all over the state of Florida as well as FBI and Secret Service cordoned off a large chunk of the city in hopes to keep anarchists away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum and Tampa Convention Center which was the site of the RNC.
It was expected that 15-20,000 protestors would arrive to destroy the city. There were also rumors that anarchists would attempt to take down bridges and even deploy IEDs throughout the city. So I got myself prepared to what was sure to be the craziest assignment of my life, which was to cover these crazy protestors on the streets of Tampa day and night!
My first night started off with covering a late night party called the “Roving Radical Dance Party” in Ybor city. I was so worried that shit might go down that I even brought along a buddy to be an extra set of eyes and watch my back. So we setup in Centennial Park in Ybor City as we watched about 200 or so protestors loosely organize at the park.. it was about 10pm.
I expected much more protestors to be on their way but…. nothing. 200 people MAX showed up. The park was quickly surrounded by about 200 cops watching in the distance for any madness that may happen. What actually happened was nobody brought any kind of music, and if they did it was so loud nobody heard anything. So instead the protestors just started singing random songs and dancing around until they got bored.
Once they got bored they hit the streets of Ybor City and marched down 7th ave, with about 300 or so cops surrounding them. Now this scared me at first because I thoght that the cops would surround us and take all of us to jail for stopping traffic and being in an un-permitted march. So I kept my escape routes open, ready to bug out if I saw the cops start to arrest people.
Well, nothing happened! The cops remained cool and just made sure the protestors did not get hit by a car or stop traffic on a major road. Thats it! No pepper spray, tear gas or bean bag bullets. The cops just waited for the protestors to get bored and tired and dispurse on their own. And 45 minutes later they did just that. It was funny to see the protestors taunt the cops and try to provoke some kind of violent reaction to fuel the anger of the other protestors but they got nothing! It was actually a great tactic. If you don’t give the protestors a reason to be pissed at the police then the violence doesn’t escalate.
It turns out that out of the 20,000 protestors that were expected only a few hundred actually showed up. So with the 3500+ law enforcement officers working the security detail they were clearly out numbered. No one is sure why the protestors chickened out but some say it was due to Hurricane Isaac which was supposed to hit Tampa or because of the 50Mil that was spent on security scared them away.
Either way all of the marches and rally’s had very low numbers and were always outnumbered. In my opinion I would say there where 40% media 40% cops and 20% protestors. It was the lamest thing ever. And as a photographer it sucked because you see the same dudes over and over at every march. Still wearing the same clothes, still smelling like sweaty armpits and bad breathe.
The funny thing was when the protestors started running low on food guess who came to the rescue and provided them with about 100 boxed meals?? THE COPS! How can you say ” Fuck they Police!” when they are the ones feeding you! I think that was a brilliant move on the part of the cops. Bravo to them because that was freaking awesome!
Well this post is running much longer than I planned so I will post a Part 2 in a few days. Stay tuned.