Police, National Guard members and other security personnel were more than prepared for the protests on Monday. Multiple helicopters hovered above the Tampa skies like mechanical dragon flies and police documented protesters from overpasses -- a complete role reversal from how citizens journalists have recently kept a close eye on police behavior.
Much of the protest was accompanied by spurts of rain followed by intense sunlight -- and this happened over and over again. The protest occurred in East downtown Tampa at the corner of South Nebraska Avenue and East Whiting Street, just blocks away from the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
At first, dozens of police officers rode in on horseback and marched through the city like military troops. They continued to flood through the streets like a human river. The police then proceeded to ride their bikes to guide the protesters who were marching close behind. Once the police established a zone, the protesters crammed their way through in an aggressive manner, but no skirmishes ensued.
Though the protest and police were for the most part respectful and peaceful, that may have been because there were no leaders for the protesters to march against. This was more of a practice march. Not only was this a test run for the protesters, but it seemed to be one for the police and security too. Once the city is finished with security tonight and politicians start showing up for the convention on Tuesday, chances are the protesters will be more active and thus be watched more closely.
The protest was also very disjointed. There were people protesting the wars, others calling for an end to the two-party system and some Ron Paul supporters scattered into the mix (the Tampa Bay Times created an informative infographic to show the different types of people included in similar marches).
In the background, dozens of police on horseback watched as the protests continued. The horses were fully-equipped with eye protectors and police made sure their horses stayed hydrated in the humidity. Fully-clothed police officers constantly handed out water and drank Gatorade in order to stand the high humidity.
Protesters showed up in small numbers due to the threat of Hurricane Isaac. There weren't 10,000 protesters as expected. According to Politico, the number of protesters was approximately 500 -- nowhere near the protesters' target.
Overheard was local police worried about protesters dressed in black with gloves, sunglasses and bandanas over their faces. This group is referred to as Black Bloc. The police made sure to point out the alleged Black Bloc members to each other as they prepared to take immediate action if necessary. No action took place.
The march went from somewhat of a fast paced walk to an immediate halt and that was when tensions rose. Standing at the corner of Nebraska Avenue and East Whiting Street was Police Chief Jane Castor. She stood there stoically, ahead of the march, looking North as she was ready to direct her officers in a swift and timely fashion if needed. The protests then continued down Whiting.
From being in the middle of the protest, one could really get a sense of tension and frustration among the police. Not only were members of the media and bystanders behind the police barricade (a barricade which consisted of police on bikes), but media members were also dispersed within the group of protesters. If something were to go down, it would make decisions difficult for the officers.
Besides a couple of police officers yelling at each other to focus on certain members within the protest and rowdy behavior among protesters, the march was quite tame.
For the most part, the protesters and the police respected each other and today, the right to peaceably assemble was upheld.