Protests dwindle on final day of RNC
TAMPA - Protests on the last day of the Republican National Convention were a lot like the rest of the week: A few demonstrations, negotiations with police, no arrests. The biggest event of the day came when about 100 protesters converged at Tampa Electric's Big Bend power plant Thursday afternoon in Apollo Beach. Several of the protesters blocked traffic when they chained themselves together and lay across Wyandotte Road, about a mile west of U.S. 41 off Big Bend Road. Protesters then waved down a tanker truck and a seventh demonstrator hopped onto the tanker and chained himself to the back. "We have to pay for their environmental destruction," said Stacey Hessler, with Occupy Wall Street, referring to the coal-fired power plants. "We need to find a renewable energy source. What we are doing now is destroying our earth.''The protest was staged by Earth First with members of Occupy Wall Street and Food Not Bombs. Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies arrived around 2:30 p.m. They closed Big Bend Road at U.S. 41, and more than 20 trucks soon lined up waiting to get into the complex. The protesters were using what is called the "sleeping dragon'' technique: handcuffing their wrists while their arms were inside a PVC pipe. Officers are then forced to cut through the pipes to move the demonstrators. Deputies and Tampa officers used an industrial saw to cut them loose, using shields to cover the protesters so they would not get burned by the sparks. Deputies told the protesters they would cut them free and not arrest anyone if they agreed to move to a convenience store on U.S. 41. The protesters agreed. Everyone was freed from their chains by 5:30 p.m.; 15 minutes later, all the roads were open and trucks began moving to and from the power plant. Emmanuel Irizarry, 21, one of the truck drivers for Soil Tech in Orlando, said he was part of a group of 14 Soil Tech drivers held up by the protest. "I'm just going with the flow," he said. "I'm trying to keep a positive outlook. What can you do? They can follow what they believe in; next time hopefully they will warn us." No one was injured during the demonstration. Tampa Electric officials say plant operations were never affected. Later Thursday, about 100 protesters marched down Franklin Street as delegates filed into the convention a few blocks away. As they gathered at Lykes Gaslight Park at about 8 p.m., police encouraged demonstrators to disperse because of bad weather. A few protesters asked if they could seek shelter at police headquarters or at the convention center. They set off for the latter and were turned away so they spent the next hour with an impromptu march through downtown streets. They chanted and danced but the protest remained peaceful under the watch of police on foot, horseback and bicycles. Police had made no arrests by late Thursday, leaving the number of protest-related arrests in Hillsborough County at three for the convention.
Reporter Rob Shaw contributed to this report.