First Coast Connect: Arrests, Controversy Around Hemming Syria Protest

Apr 10, 2017

Supporters of the protesters arrested Friday in Hemming Park gather Saturday in front of the Duval County Courthouse demanding charges be dropped.
Credit Bruce Lipsky- Florida Times-Union

Six people were arrested Friday when a protest downtown against the U.S. firing missiles at a Syrian airbase turned violent.

Video of the Jacksonville Sheriff’s officers taking protestors to the ground has been shared around the world, including London’s Daily Mail.

On Saturday, protesters gathered in front of the Duval County Courthouse demanding the charges against those arrested be dropped.

Monday on First Coast Connect, members of the Jacksonville Progressive Coalition blamed the altercation on Jacksonville resident Gary Snow. In videos published on Facebook, Snow can be seen standing next to activists waving a large Trump flag and speaking into a bullhorn.     

Coalition member Wells Todd said Snow often appears at its protests.

“Gary Snow is here from Chicago. He’s a provocateur,” Todd said. “He did the same thing in Chicago that he is doing here and that is to incite violence. JSO knows him and they did nothing to stop him.”

Others who were at the protest said Snow was bumping into activists and hitting them with his Trump flag and pole as he waved it on the stage.    

Snow denies he tries to start trouble. He said he was only asserting his First Amendment rights.      

“They have the right to go into a public place and hold a protest, but if somebody comes out and expresses their freedom of speech and uses their right to voice their opinion or their dissent for their protest, then I was looked upon as an agitator or provocateur. It seems like a double standard,” he said.

Attorney John Phillips is representing some of those arrested. He said his office will investigate the incident. He said he hopes anyone who claims to have been assaulted by Snow files charges against him as well.          

Meanwhile, in a statement released shortly after the incident, JSO said their officers acted correctly.

Producer Kevin Meerschaert can be reached at kmeerschaert@wjct.org, 904-358-6334 or on Twitter at @KMeerschaertJax