Fight for civil liberties at
Baywalk, St. Petersburg
in the lead up to the Iraq war, St. Pete for Peace began protesting on
the public sidewalk in front of
the Baywalk shopping mall in downtown St. Petersburg, FL.
Saturday night for about three years, a group of 15 to 200 people
peacefully demonstrated, handed out leaflets and engaged in
conversations in an attempt to raise awareness about U.S. foreign
policy. The Uhuru Movement also protested regularly at
during this time.
the management of Baywalk attempted to convince city officials that
protesters were creating a safety hazard and the sidewalk should be
privatized, thus preventing demonstrations from occurring.
should be noted that Baywalk's owner, Mel Sembler, was a prominent
supporter of George W. Bush and was once a U.S. ambassador to
Italy.) But a wide contingent of groups and individuals
back and the bid to stop protests was rebuffed.
Baywalk again tried to stifle 1st Amendment rights and make protesting
in front of their mall illegal. The crackdown intensified as
barricades were erected and a heavy police presence attempted to
intimidate protesters. A woman was arrested for honking her car horn in
support of the protests and another for playing drums. But
heavy-handed tactics backfired and the protests at Baywalk grew in
numbers and energy. When police arrested six St.
Peace protesters, including three teenagers, subsequent protests saw
their largest numbers and most intense passion, thus forcing
the city and Baywalk to once again withdraw attempts to stop protests.
protests at Baywalk had been reduced to the occasional Saturday evening
due to the fact that Baywalk had begun to struggle and was experiencing
a sharp reduction in the number of shoppers. In fact, Baywalk had a new
owner and shuffled through five property managers in a short period of
time. St. Pete for Peace concluded that its energies would be
better spent in other locations. But the new owners, who were
trying to flip the property, felt it was important to privatize the
sidewalk, so once again, an attempt was made to make protesting
illegal. By this time, so few people protested at Baywalk that it was
clear the real targets of the Baywalk ownership were young people,
particularly black youth, who were being blamed for "loitering" and
scaring people away from Baywalk. (What
was also being conveniently ignored was that the U.S. economy was in
biggest tailspin since the Depression and more than 400 of the 2,000 largest malls in the U.S.
had already closed.)
Desperate city officials, business members and media outlets
(particularly the editorial board of the St. Petersburg Times) launched
a fact-denying propaganda campaign to privatize the sidewalk in front
of Baywalk, but local protest groups countered with a focused,
coordinated counter-campaign and won an against-the-odds vote in
city council, thus maintaining the right to demonstrate.
After the winning vote, in a good faith effort, St. Pete for Peace
announced that it would not protest in front of Baywalk for at least 12
months, thus defusing the situation in an attempt to help bring the
city together. But city officials undermined this good faith
effort (and democracy) and decided to re-vote on the issue.
Baywalk's owners at the time, an out-of-state company named
Capital, pushed city council members and eventually got to one of them,
Herb Polson (a U.S. veteran who took a vow to the
Constitution), to flip-flop and vote for the privatization of
sidewalk. In the aftermath of the announcement in the
City Hall, the brother of Bill Dudley, one of the council members who
voted to stop free speech, attacked a protester by grabbing his neck.
But not all protesters are pacifists and this one stood his
ground and took the attacker to the ground.
Regardless of the vote, St. Pete for Peace immediately descended upon
Baywalk and protested in front of the shopping mall with
demonstrations, radical cheerleading, flash mobs and more.
Eventually the protests stopped because there were so few
going to shop at Baywalk it was not an efficient use of time.
point had been made, and shortly thereafter, Baywalk went into
foreclosure and was put up for sale.
As of 2013,
Baywalk, which has a new owner, is still struggling and not worth
having protests in front of. But to this day, St. Pete for
and others have maintained their right to protest in public space, and
should the time come where it's worthwhile, protests at Baywalk could
begin again. And as promised, all the city council members,
officials and business community members who hold the Constitution in
contempt will be subjected to protests in front of their houses if
protests in front of Baywalk are not allowed.
Here are some photos, videos and notations from
the struggle for free speech at Baywalk
|Videos, photos, stories and more
privatize, we protest" (photos).
- City Official's Racially Charged Remarks About
- It has been glaringly
apparent from the beginning of the proposal to privatize the sidewalk
in front of Baywalk that the city of St. Petersburg is targeting people
based on their political affiliation and expression. What has been less
obvious, but surely more insidious, is how race also plays a factor in
- Listen to "Views Impeding
Traffic" a song
that talks about the situation at Baywalk
descend upon Baywalk to defend free speech! (watch)
councilmember Jeff Danner dodge the truth.
This encounter took place outside of city council chambers last
Thursday following the Committee of the Whole meeting in which
activists were not allowed to speak. (Read Chris
Hrabovsky's article). This video was captured by Leonard Schmiege,
Danner's opponent in the upcoming election.
- Watch ACLU's
Glenn Katon at city council (YouTube)
removed from SP Times website:
by Cristina Silva exposed the city's fraudulent pledge to talk to
protesters. It appeared in the St. Pete Times printed version
Oct. 15, the day the city council voted to vacate the sidewalk,
online version has since been removed.
Sidewalk Liberation Army descended upon Baywalk on Saturday, August
22nd to defend people's rights to freedom of assembly and speech. Watch the
YouTube video here
Attempt to Stifle Free Speech:
Council chairperson Jeff Danner is requesting city council draft an
ordinance regulating the use of bullhorns in public (read).
This contradicts city officials' claims that people's 1st amendment
rights would be upheld if they just went on the south side of 2nd
to the Development Review Commission
customer assaults 2 protesters
Limited free speech is not free speech
Civil rights are not bad for the economy
The $6 million question
Public opinion & Democracy
Protesters are not a security issue
City Attorney tells Commission to disregard 1st
city of St. Petersburg is on a roll! In the same week St.
Petersburg was ranked the 2nd meanest city toward the homeless (read),
the city is (once again!) trying to strip the rights of people to
demonstrate in front of Baywalk.
Pete taxpayers are BayWalk's biggest investors" (read).
Barricades Down, but
- Uhurus campaign against city's
plan to bolster BayWalk, privatize sidewalks.
- We protest
"No Protest Zones" (photos).
|Articles, comics, etc.
- According to
in the St. Pete Times, council member Karl Nurse voted to privatize the
sidewalk as a return favor to Mayor Rick Baker: "For instance, Nurse
got Baker to sign off on a series of energy efficiency projects.... In
return, Nurse supported Baker's plans to privatize the public sidewalk
fronting the BayWalk complex and annex the northern edge of Tierra
Verde, two wildly controversial measures."
Petersburg City Attorney John Wolfe says the First Amendment is
"irrelevant". We disagree. Wolfe
told a commission that cutting off people’s ability
to protest is “not relevant to your
Wolfe essentially told the commission that First Amendment rights were
not to be taken into account when placing their vote on the sidewalk
issue. The public was not allowed to question Mr.
- City Council member Jim Kennedy said Mayor Rick
Baker or his staff
regularly conduct private meetings with City Council members to discuss
upcoming business items before public meetings. Baker is
enough" to ensure his ideas will likely receive a majority of the City
Council's votes before they come up for vote, Kennedy said.
don't know if I really buy the concept that protesters and free speech
demonstrators are responsible for the demise of BayWalk," he said.(More)
One of the
reasons being given for privatizing the sidewalk is that protesters are
a public safety hazard. Yet, over the 6 years we've protested
Baywalk, there has never been a single incident in which a protester at
Baywalk physically harmed anybody. Conversely, there have
numerous occasions when the opposite has been the case:
owners (CW Capital) told the city council that if
they don't give them the public sidewalk, CW Capital won't go through
with plans to invest up to $6 million dollars into the shopping mall.
We all know that
protesters at Baywalk aren't a public safety hazard. That's
a ruse. At the heart of this is the notion that young, black
people scare white people away from going to Baywalk.
understand they can't say this out loud, but if the city is going to
snub its nose at the Constitution, they should at least be honest about
their reasons why.
- A protester
was punched in the face by a drunk Baywalk customer.
- A female
protester was beat up by a Baywalk patron who didn't like the
- Drinks have
been poured onto protesters from Baywalk's drinking establishments.
- A number of
protesters have been pelted with ice thrown by Baywalk customers.
- A glass was
thrown at protesters from someone at a Baywalk bar.
- A person
leaving Baywalk violently shoved a protester twice.
- On multiple
occasions, protesters' signs have been destroyed by Baywalk patrons.
more YouTube videos of people speaking on behalf of the Constitution at
last week's City Council meeting: Leonard
Schmiege, Mike Fox
Helm. Here's Mark
Kamleiter's comments, as well.
Latest on the Baywalk sidewalk
Baywalk owner Bill Edwards' company levied an FTC record $7.5 million
fine for 'do not call' violations; Edwards' company accused of trying
to dupe U.S. veterans and active service members into home loans (read).
Former mayor Rick Baker -- who pushed for the public sidewalk in
front of BayWalk to be off limits to protesters, and ordered the
slashing of homeless peoples' tents -- will leave his high paying job
at USF to run Bill Edwards enterprises, including BayWalk (read).
This is good news on two fronts: 1) Taxpayers will no longer
paying Baker $250,000 a year; and 2) The reinvention of Baywalk is now
more likely to fail with Baker at the helm because he believes young
black people and free speech are bad for business.
Baywalk's new owner takes taxpayer money to fund projects, despite
saying otherwise (read).
Baywalk's new owner, Bill Edwards donates $5,000 to St. Petersburg
City Council candidate (and Republican) Bob Kersteen's campaign (read).
Under campaign contribution rules, any individual or corporation can
give up to $500 to a council candidate per election. Edwards
contributed the money through 10 separate companies.)
ACLU letter to St. Pete Mayor Bill Foster regarding the Baywalk
St. Petersburg's BayWalk slapped with code violations (read).
St. Petersburg's BayWalk: the true cost of a ghost town (read).
One year after a controversial vote, BayWalk is more vacant than ever (watch,
When asked if there's anything he'd do differently, council member Herb
Polson, who cast the deciding vote last year said, "I would like an
opportunity to do it again."
The BayWalk Gazette, all the news that's fit for satire (read)
In addition to passing an
ordinance last month banning
protests in front of Baywalk, the city of St. Pete and
management last week announced a plan to stop protests on the
OTHER side of 2nd Ave N as well (read).
Even though they are just now saying it aloud, it was part of their
plan all along. It's right
on page 8 of the Baywalk Revitalization Plan, which was made
public in July, and we brought it to their attention during the City
Council meetings. How can council member Karl Nurse now say
"That's news to me," when asked about the new proposal to prevent
protests on another public sidewalk? Nurse, Mayor Baker,
member Polson and others rationalized their approval of the
sidewalk giveaway by saying protesters rights were maintained because
they could still protest across the street.