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Anti-Klan activists march, burn Confederate flag in front of Old Capitol without incident

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A group of around 60 protesters marched from Florida State University to the Capitol this evening in a show of force against recent Ku Klux Klan-related activity in Tallahassee. The event, organized by Students for a Democratic Society, culminated in the burning of a Confederate flag near the steps of the Old Capitol building.

Referring to recent reports of neglect and abuse in prisons overseen by the Florida Department of Corrections, chants of “DOC, KKK, how many people did you kill today?” and “Indict, convict, send these racist cops to jail; the whole damn system is guilty as hell!” filled College Avenue as the sun set over Downtown Tallahassee.

A mixture of anti-racist exhortations, militant rhetoric and homespun political economy was voiced over a bullhorn as officers from the Tallahassee Police Department and Florida Department of Law Enforcement looked on, mostly unperturbed.

Much to the officers’ relief, not in attendance were counter-protesters from the small Republic of Florida Militia, who had earlier threatened via social media to meet the protest with force.

“They’re cowards, that’s why they’re not here,” said Naomi Bradley, representing a group called the Trans Liberation Front at the rally.

Rumors were floated that some would-be militiamen had tried to come and were barred by police officers, but officers from the Capitol Police denied that account. TPD officers escorted the protesters along their route from the Westcott Building at FSU down to the Capitol.

Near the event’s denouement SDS leader Regina Joseph was handed a “gift” in the form of a Confederate Naval jack. It was promptly spit and trampled upon before Joseph inquired whether anyone among the crowd had any hand sanitizer or Axe body spray, to aid in igniting the flag.

“Do we smell like we wear Axe?” was one protester’s rejoinder as the mood grew festive.

The fire piqued the interest of onlooking FDLE officers, who hovered more closely as the brief conflagration began. At one point one protester confronted an officer, telling him, “You have to take our concerns seriously; they have to resonate” because “you don’t want martial law. You might not be the cops anymore.”

That incident, however, was out of step with the generally convivial atmosphere of the evening rally, where the focus centered more on organized hate groups than on law enforcement.

Joseph and others among the SDS faithful vowed to continue to confront Klan elements, who she said were “everywhere” around the state capital.

Ryan Ray writes about campaigns and public policy in Tampa Bay and across the state. A contributor to FloridaPolitics.com and before that, The Florida Squeeze, he covers the Legislature as a member of the Florida Capitol Press Corps and has worked as a staffer on several campaigns. He can be reached at ryan@floridapolitics.com.

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