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Pro-Palestinian protests are rising in Florida, and so is the crackdown

Written by on Friday, November 3, 2023

WSLR News interviewed a protester about her recent experience with arrest.

By Johannes Werner

Original Air Date: Nov. 1, 2023

Host: Immediately after the Hamas terror attacks on Israeli cooperatives near the Gaza border, there were a series of pro-Israel demonstrations in Florida. The biggest one, at the Holocaust Memorial in Miami, drew about 3,000 people. A pro-Israel event at the Municipal Auditorium in Sarasota drew several hundred participants and local officials. More recently, as civilians in Gaza are now feeling the full brunt of all-out war with thousands of deaths, a wave of smaller pro-Palestine protests has emerged in cities and campuses across Florida. At the same time, a crackdown is beginning to play out, with Gov. Ron DeSantis banning a student organization on two Florida campuses. News Director Johannes Werner talked to Ruth Beltran, an organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation who was arrested during a protest in St. Petersburg last Thursday. Full disclosure: Beltran is also a co-host of the Ruthless Truth show on WSLR.

Johannes Werner: Some 100 people had gathered Thursday evening to march from city hall in St. Petersburg through downtown, as they had done before many times. They shouted slogans about ending genocide in Gaza, and denounced U.S. funding for Israel’s war. But this time, city police interfered with the march, arresting three demonstration marshals, including Ruth Beltran.

Ruth Beltran: We held a protest in St. Pete, calling for the liberation of Palestine. The protest was starting at St. Pete city hall, which is where we normally do our protest. We have been protesting there for an endless number of years. From there, we have a pretty predetermined route that we use. So we began doing what we normally do, we met and we began our route. And that’s when we were confronted by a large number of police officers that were just really trying to interfere with the protests. So as a result of that, I was arrested, and two other young Palestinian women were also arrested. By the time I was arrested, I was standing on the sidewalk. I was not blocking traffic or anything by that time. But they decided to arrest me anyways.

JW: In addition to the night they spent in jail, Beltran and two young Palestinean women are now facing a traffic citation and must appear before a judge for resisting arrest without violence.

RB: You know, it makes us question like, is that all we did? And why were the police officers even reaching out to grab us when they didn’t have any grounds to do that? Because at that time, I was on the sidewalk. I wasn’t breaking any law at that point. How can they charge us with resisting arrest, if that doesn’t justify why they even grabbed us to arrest us in the first place? So we are very puzzled about that.

JW: Beltran suffers of a rare medical condition that makes walking impossible at times, which is why she was in a wheelchair during the protest. Despite her pleading to let her take the wheelchair, the arresting officer left it behind, which prompted a series of complications for Beltran in jail.

RB: I have a chronic illness called Neuromyelitis Optica. It’s a very rare autoimmune neurological condition. So I’m able to stand and sometimes walk a little bit, but it’s very limited. If I’m going to walk up more than a block, I have to use my wheelchair because my legs will eventually give and I will fall. So when we started, I was on my wheelchair because I was in a lot of pain on Thursday, prior to even arriving at the protest. When I arrived at the protest, a woman volunteered to push me during the march, and I was in the wheelchair when we were first encountered by the police. Once I got to the jail, my legs couldn’t hold me anymore. And I had to ask for a wheelchair, even as they were checking me. They were just like ‘You’re standing just fine’. And I had to raise my voice and say ‘You need to have some compassion. I need to sit because that can further jeopardize my mobility’. So I had to raise my voice and said ‘You need to show some compassion. I’m telling you, I have limited mobility. I need a chair’. And then, after they checked me in, they checked me into an orange suit, and once they do the booking where they take your mug shots and they take your fingerprints, at that point, I could no longer walk. So I was on the floor, begging for a wheelchair. And then, prison guards came and yelled and screamed at me in the most dehumanizing way, threatening to throw me into a cell in further punishing, because I didn’t have legs to walk on.

JW: Even so, she hopes to recover in time to travel to Washington this weekend, for what is expected to be a massive pro-Palestine demonstration.

Beltran

On Monday, an organization called “A Better World is Possible” sent out an announcement for a protest in Sarasota this Saturday, for those unable to join the Washington rally. Meanwhile, Beltran’s group, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, is planning a follow-up protest in Sarasota Nov. 12.

While these protests with hundreds of participants were playing out in Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Tampa, St. Petersburg and Gainesville, the governor moved to shut down a student organization — Students for Justice in Palestine — on the campuses of the University of Florida in Gainesville, and at the University of South Florida in Tampa. On NBC News’ Meet the Press, DeSantis explained.

Ron DeSantis: This is not cancel culture. This group, they themselves said in the aftermath of the Hamas attack, that they don’t just stand stand in solidarity, that they are part of this Hamas movement. So you have a right to go out and demonstrate, but you can’t provide material support to terrorism. They’ve linked themselves to Hamas, and so we absolutely decertified them, they should not get one red cent of taxpayer dollars. And we also have strong laws in Florida against fundraising for groups like Hamas, and we are enforcing those vigorously. It’s not a First Amendment issue. That’s a material support to terrorism issue.

Beltran calls the governor’s justification “deceitful”.

RB: It is just another attempt to silence the voices that are speaking the truth regarding the genocide and apartheid that has been in place in Palestine for decades now. I think the governor is using strategic language. We saw that even in the protests that we held in Tampa, along with a coalition, in what was one of the very first protests, the governor came out and accused us and stated that, in our protest in particular, we were defending Hamas. If you attended our protest, you could see the Hamas word was not mentioned. We are not defending Hamas, but we do take a stand against the genocide of Palestinian people. We do take a stand against the apartheid that they have been living under. And we do take a stand against the funding for almost $4 billion that goes to Israel on a yearly basis, while our communities do not have enough money to pay our teachers and to support our actual communities.

JW: This has been Johannes Werner, reporting for WSLR.

 

WSLR News aims to keep the local community informed with our 1/2 hour local news show, quarterly newspaper and social media feeds. The local news broadcast airs on Wednesdays and Fridays at 6pm.