No Cuba protesters were arrested after blocking I-95. Local activist calls it a double standard

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Protests against conditions in Cuba continue across the state with some shutting down busy roads including two in Duval County on Tuesday.

The Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office said no arrests were made and no citations were given out during the demonstration.

It has raised the question if what they did was illegal under the state’s new “anti-riot” law.

During another protest Wednesday night, demonstrators marched through downtown Jacksonville not blocking traffic.

But it was a different story on Tuesday. About 100 demonstrators instead took over a portion of Atlantic Boulevard to protest the deteriorating conditions in Cuba.

The sea of people blocked traffic on Atlantic Blvd. and even made it to Interstate 95 during rush hour.

Local activist Ben Frazier of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville said the lack of arrests qualifies as a double standard.

“We are very concerned because it appears that Black organizers and their supporters are being treated differently,” he said.

Nearly 50 demonstrators were arrested last year while protesting the death of George Floyd and police brutality.

The recent Cuban protests have raised controversy again over House Bill 1, also known as the ‘anti-riot’ bill.

Governor Ron DeSantis signed it into law in April and it stiffens penalties for violent rioters.

News4Jax went to one of the co-sponsors of the bill, state representative Cord Byrd, with these concerns.

He said the law would not implicate the protestors based on what happened Tuesday.

“If you look at the definitions in House Bill 1, it requires certain violent acts. It requires the destruction of property harm to other individuals and to my knowledge I have not seen any of that,” he said.

Byrd did say it is illegal under Florida law to block traffic but it would be up to local agencies to decide whether to make an arrest or issue a citation.

“So I would tell everyone, exercise your constitutional rights, speak your mind, peaceably assemble, don’t block a roadway,” Byrd said.

Fraizer disagrees with Byrd’s assessment.

“I think it’s pretty clear that most of us know what racial discrimination is and it does not surprise us at all that the people who put together HB 1 would say such a heinous horrific thing,” Frazier said.

News4Jax reached out to the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office and the agency said that they support everyone’s right to protest peacefully but that blocking traffic is illegal.

About the Author:

Renee Beninate is a Florida native and award-winning reporter who joined the News4Jax team in June 2021.