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Progressive Coalition Urging State Attorney To Free 'Jax Five'

Progressive activists say they’re keeping the pressure on State Attorney Melissa Nelson to drop charges against downtown protesters after an incident in Hemming Park earlier this month.

Members of the Progressive Coalition are framing Nelson’s handling of the “Jax Five” as the first real test of her career as the area’s top prosecutor.

Outside the state attorney’s office Friday, activists stood in front of a large book made of poster board.

Fernando Figueroa talked as another person turns pages to reveal pictures of those being arrested on April 8, just a couple blocks from here in Hemming Park.

“We’re here today to call on Melissa Nelson to turn the page on the disgraceful past of Angela Corey and open a new chapter in Jacksonville with civil rights and equal protection under the law for all,” he said.

The five were arrested at a demonstration against U.S. airstrikes in Syria after a verbal confrontation with a pro-Trump counterprotester turned violent.

The Progressive Coalition believes the counter protester received preferential treatment, while officers used disproportionate force against them, including one organizer who is partially deaf. They also said the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office should’ve stepped in sooner to separate the two factions.

The office has since said it’s reviewing its protocol.

Organizer Michael Sampson said another group he works with — Color for Change — has collected more than 100,000 petitions demanding dropped charges.

“So far national organizations have been out here showing support. If these charges aren't dropped then we’ll see more,” he said.

Sampson’s original plan was to deliver the petitions Monday while the five was scheduled to enter pleas, but that date has been changed to May 10th.

The protesters are facing a range of charges, including resisting arrest, inciting a riot and felony assault on an officer.

In an emailed statement, Nelson said her office is paying close attention to the cases.

“Our office is still reviewing these cases and has been in contact with opposing counsel for each defendant,” she wrote.

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Reporter Ryan Benk can be reached at, 904-358-6319 or on Twitter @RyanMichaelBenk.