Jacksonville activist defends actions that led to arrest before governor’s news conference

Tense exchange between Ben Frazier, governor’s staffers ends with activist arrested on trespassing charge

Community activist Ben Frazier joins us to talk about his experience at the press conference with Gov. Ron DeSantis yesterday.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A Jacksonville civil rights activist arrested Tuesday on a misdemeanor trespassing charge before Gov. Ron DesSantis’ planned news conference with health officials in Duval County defended his behavior during an interview Wednesday on The Morning Show.

“The fact of the matter is that the right to peacefully protest is part of who we are as a nation. It’s an important way for citizens to enact change. Protests are an indispensable part of our democracy. Public expression is critical to a functioning democracy,” Frazier said.

Frazier, of the Northside Coalition, is known for his vocal protests at public meetings that have often ended with him being escorted from the room. Tuesday’s incident, however, was the first time that removal involved handcuffs.

“The fact of the matter is the governor is trying to silence people that he doesn’t agree with or who disagree with him in terms of his personal politics,” Frazier said Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Frazier stood in the room inside the state offices where the governor was slated to speak with health officials and flatly refused to budge when aides for the governor repeatedly asked him to leave. He said he had a right to be in the public space.

[WATCH: Press play below to watch the entire exchange with Frazier and his arrest]

Ben Frazier's heated exchange with Gov. Ron DeSantis' staffers eventually ended with Frazier in handcuffs being led from the building and placed in a marked police car.

The tense exchange continued and eventually ended with Frazier being arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge but released on his own recognizance and given a notice to appear in court. If the charges are not dropped, Frazier could face a fine and court costs and possible community service.

DeSantis ended up holding the news conference with state health officials elsewhere in the building after Frazier and other activists had been removed. At the time, he declined to address what happened, but his press secretary Christina Pushaw later released a statement about the incident:

“The press conference is for credentialed media to cover information from the governor’s office and state leaders that is important for the public to hear. Mr. Frazier is an activist, not a member of the press. Every citizen has the right to protest in public places -- but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent information from being conveyed to the public.”

Frazier did not mince words about his feelings on the statement from the governor’s office -- or his feelings about DeSantis himself.

“That whole statement from the governor is hogwash. We all know it is. He tried to stop us from being in there before he even started his (press conference). There was no disruption. We didn’t get a chance to disrupt,” Frazier said. “Let me be perfectly clear here. This is not about partisan politics -- Republican and Democrats. This is not about race and Black and white. This is about right and wrong. And we are sick and damn tired of this governor playing politics with the pandemic.”

The state Republican party criticized Frazier and his actions:

“Democrat activist Ben Frazier attempted to disrupt Governor DeSantis’ press conference related to the distribution of COVID life-saving treatments for Duval County. It is on record, that he was politely asked to leave and refused multiple times upon which he was escorted out by law enforcement. This is not the first time Mr. Frazier encounters the law. Governor DeSantis is fighting to increase the supply of COVID treatments that the federal government is denying Florida residents. Democrats must not stand in the way of people getting the COVID treatments and information they deserve.”

Local Democrats and the party, on the other hand, criticized the governor. Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat running against DeSantis for governor, also weighed in:

“The extremely disturbing events we saw take place today, arresting an individual for simply asking to speak with the Governor at a press conference held on government property discussing public health policy, were a realization of our fears surrounding HB1′s enactment. HB1 set a dangerous precedent, disallowing individuals from speaking their minds and peacefully gathering – freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. I hope that any charges brought against Mr. Frazier, a respected civil rights activist in the community, are swiftly dropped and apologies issued for infringing on his rights. The Governor should be ashamed.”

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.

Lifetime Jacksonville resident anchors the 8 and 9 a.m. weekday newscasts and is part of the News4Jax I-Team.