Nine officers responded to a reported shooting in Tampa in the early hours of Saturday but found no evidence a shooting occurred, including no victim.
Instead, the hundreds of people in the area penned the officers in and hurled bottles and other objects, injuring two of the officers.
Officials describing the protests as entirely peaceful “are not depicting the whole story,” Tampa Police Chief Brian Duggan said Thursday.
“They’re leaving the portions out that fit their narrative. We’ve had police cars with smashed windows … looting, defacing property, and it’s just not getting out there,” he said during an appearance on “Fox & Friends.”
Duggan added later: “I assure you that we are not going to take a knee, we’re going to stand up, we’re going to defend our city, we’re the guardians of the city and we have no intentions of handing over the key to the city to these protesters who, quite frankly, are just not always peaceful.”
Without mentioning him by name, the police official referred to Hillsborough State Attorney Andrew Warren, who declined to file charges against any of the people arrested in Tampa on June 2 for unlawful assembly.
“Prosecuting people for exercising their First Amendment rights doesn’t solve problems, it creates them by weakening the bonds that exist between law enforcement in our community and by undermining people’s faith in our system,” Warren said at a press conference announcing his decision earlier this month.
Warren on June 18 filed felony charges against 11 defendants accused of taking part of rioting and looting on the nights of May 30 and May 31.
“If you’re out to peacefully protest, you can expect support from our community. But if you’re out to hurt, destroy, or steal—you can expect to be held accountable under the law,” he said in a statement.
Protests against alleged police brutality and racial injustice have taken place across the United States since George Floyd, an unarmed black man, died in policy custody in Minneapolis on Memorial Day. The four police officers involved were fired. They were later charged with murder or aiding and abetting murder.
In some cases, violence, including destruction of businesses and assault on individuals, has accompanied the protests or occurred near them.
Duggan, the police chief, said officers find themselves in a difficult situation. Demonstrators don’t want police officers at the protests but some community members do want a presence there to try to corral those who may become violent.
Underpinning it all are efforts to defund or even abolish police departments in different cities.
“We need to be very careful about that. The next time there’s an active shooter at the mall, the next time there’s an act of terrorism, or a school shooting, who’s going to respond?” Duggan wondered.
“Right now, the officers feel like they can’t win,” he told reporters on Monday.
Duggan described what unfolded over the weekend as a setup in Thursday’s appearance, a more definitive statement than Monday’s press conference.
“It was clearly just a set up to get the cops there and then surround them,” he said.
One arrest was made. Police were reviewing video footage from the scene to try to identify people who hurled objects at officers and quickly ran away.