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Pro-choice protesters regrouping after Tallahassee arrests

By Gabriella Mercurio

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    Tallahassee (WTXL) — “Drop the charge! Drop the charge!”

A different kind of protest for a group in Tallahassee pushing against a potential six-week abortion ban. Now, they’re calling for charges to be dropped for 11 people arrested outside of city hall for trespassing.

“Our state constitutional right to privacy, which includes our personal health care decisions, but as we are speaking against the near total abortion ban, our first amendment rights have also been violated,” said protester Kat Duesterhaus.

Nikki fried and Senator Lauren Book were among those arrested. Both very vocal against abortion bills going through the legislature.

Protesters with Occupy Tally say on top of pushing for their charges to be dropped, they are trying to shift the focus back to the state’s controversial six-week abortion ban.

“In our House and Senate are destroying our human rights. Human rights. Not partisan rights. These rights affect more than just women. They affect non binary and trans people as well,” said Kate Danehy-Samitz.

Danehy-Samitz is the founder of Women’s Voices of Southwest Florida; just one of the groups that traveled to the Capitol City to fight against proposed six-week abortion bills going through the legislature.

Six of their members were part of the 11, including Senator Lauren Book and Nikki Fried, that were arrested for trespassing after their protest continued well into the evening here at city hall.

Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said the City was in contact with the group leading up to the day of the protest. He said that when they heard last Thursday that organizers were planning to stay overnight, the City decided to revoke their permit to protest on Friday.

“You cannot camp in the parks in the city of Tallahassee and when you advertise statewide, come to Tallahassee, bring your tarps and tents and headlamps, that does not accurately reflect the law here,” said Dailey.

Amy Weintraub is the reproductive rights program director with Progress Florida, a group working with Occupy Tally. She said they were compliant with the City and even moved the date and location of the protest to accommodate them. Weintraub Said she is frustrated that they were not allowed to continue their peaceful protest.

“Our need to express our disdain and our dissent superseded a city ordinance. We weren’t there to camp! We were there to express our dissent,” said Weintraub.

Protesters admitted they understood there was a possibility of arrest, they just didn’t think it would actually happen. Those who were arrested are not allowed at City Hall until after their cases have closed. They do have lawyers working pro-bono to get those charges dropped.

A spokesperson for the City said they also put a sign up last Thursday to better clarify the rules for the area outside of City Hall, including no sleeping or camping and park hours.

Dailey said he had no issue with them wanting to protest, it’s just against city ordinance to stay in that area overnight.

“Last night was clearly a political stunt by Nikki Fried and the fact is the fight is across the street with the Florida Legislature, across the street with the governor’s office. This is not with the city of Tallahassee,” said Dailey.

Weintraub said now they’re refocusing on abortion access and working to gain more support as the proposed bill could pass next week.

“We need Florida to wake up and to let their legislatures and house reps know that this is unacceptable. The vast majority of Floridians do not want this bill,” said Weintraub.

When it comes to people protesting, a civil rights expert said they do have rights while demonstrating. Mark Schlakman is the Senior Program Director at Florida State University’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights.

He said there is an absolute right to peaceful assembly and freedom of expression but there can be some time place and manner restrictions.

“It’s not necessarily free and unfettered. However, there’s an expectation of reasonable discretion as to when, where and how even those restrictions are employed,” said Schlakman.

Schlakman said if you plan on joining a protest, you should be aware of what the local and state ordinances are to be able to do so.

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