A Black community activist was forcibly removed from a news conference Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had on Tuesday at the Duval County Department of Health in Jacksonville to push the latest COVID-19 misinformation. Ben Frazier, founder of the equity organization Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, called the Republican and one of his staff members an "enemy of the people.” In DeSantis’ case, Frazier couldn’t have picked a more fitting soul to bestow the title upon. The governor’s initial response to the pandemic was to deny its spread locally. When it could no longer be denied, he still issued an executive order preventing schools from requiring students to wear masks, and he followed that decision with news conference after news conference writing off COVID-19 vaccinations in favor of monoclonal antibody treatments for the virus. When Frazier attempted to hold DeSantis accountable for his lacking efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19, staff members trying to clear the event of attendees who weren't members of the media prevented him from doing so, according to ABC-affiliated First Coast News.
It’s worth noting that the whole purpose of a news conference is to share information for public consumption. That apparently is all well and good as long as the public doesn’t actually attend.
“Good morning, is there anyone in here who is not credentialed press?” a facilities manager asked before the governor arrived at the event covered by WPLG. She checked the credentials of those in attendance and then stopped at Frazier and others with him.
When they couldn’t produce media credentials, the manager asked them to leave, accusing them of trespassing. When one woman said they came to talk to their governor, she was met with the response: "This is not the time and place for that.”
An aide to DeSantis gave Frazier a business card to later arrange a meeting with the governor and explained that the event was private, WPLG reported.
“Let me get this straight, you’re having a private press conference with a public official?” Frazier asked.
The conversation ended in Frazier being handcuffed by officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office and led to a patrol car. Protestors shouted “shame” in journalist footage of the detainment.
Before his detainment, Frazier tried repeatedly to explain to staff members why he belonged at the news conference. He was shown on video saying that to bar him access to a public building, in which he was not being disruptive, was a violation of his rights.
He even attempted to remind staffers of a lawsuit that ended in a federal judge striking down a bill DeSantis signed into law last year to criminalize protesting.
“This governor has stood against our rights to protest and to assemble peaceably. It is wrong,” Frazier said in one video. “There’s a lawsuit against it already, and here you are attempting to stop the people from holding this governor accountable.”
The law banned “willfully participating in a violent public disturbance,” but it failed to define what constitutes a disturbance. The ACLU of Florida wrote in a news release that it “targets Black protestors and their allies who demand racial justice and has already slowed protest activity among Black organizers in Florida.”
U.S. District Judge Mark Walker wrote in his order: "If this court does not enjoin the statute's enforcement, the lawless actions of a few rogue individuals could effectively criminalize the protected speech of hundreds, if not thousands, of law-abiding Floridians."
Frazier did his best to make sure he wasn’t one of the thousands. GOP trolls responded with jokes about him having tested positive for COVID-19 last summer. Frazier said in a statement News4Jax obtained in July that he caught the virus despite wearing a mask and being fully vaccinated. He said he was able to avoid hospitalization. “All the suspicion falls to the wayside when you or someone you love is having trouble breathing because of COVID,” Frazier said.
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