JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A group of activists and citizens who are unhappy with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ handling of the COVID-19 pandemic were removed from the Florida Department of Health building in Duval County ahead of a news conference being held by the governor.
The group lined the back wall of the room as they waited for the governor to begin speaking Tuesday morning.
As media prepared to cover the event, an unidentified man who appeared to be with DeSantis’ team asked the group to leave the room. A local activist, Ben Frazier, said that he and the other people who had come to speak with the governor would not leave.
“You are attempting to stop us from gathering peaceably in a public building,” Frazier said as he raised his voice to the staffer. “That sir is appalling and absurd.”
Frazier repeated several times that he and the others would not be leaving and told the staffer to “Go and get the governor.”
Eventually, a man who identified himself as the “facilities manager” of the Department of Health building came into the room and asked to see the media credentials of those in attendance.
“It’s a state building, but it’s not open (to) the public — not every room in here,” the facilities manager said. “We conduct private business in some areas and I am going to ask everyone who is not the media to leave the room so we can conduct business.”
He added that anyone who did not leave would be trespassed off the property.
NOW: Another woman kicked out of @GovRonDeSantis news conference: “This is serious…We are here because my husband had to wait an hour for a test, and it was a covid test not from a state facility but from a private company.” @news6wkmg— Nadeen Yanes (@NadeenNews6) January 4, 2022
More calls to open state testing sites. pic.twitter.com/bJSGpYReIy
The people had gathered began expressing their displeasure with this ultimatum. They said that they wanted to ask the governor questions and that there “never seemed to be a time and a place for (them to ask questions).”
Shortly after this exchange, another DeSantis staffer, a woman from his communications office, entered the room. She offered her business card to the people who were refusing to leave and offered to set up a meeting between the governor and those who gathered to question him.
She then attempted to instruct the media to turn their attention back to the podium for the news conference.
“Let’s go ahead and get this back on to the press conference, please,” the staffer said gesturing toward the front of the room. “We’d like to get started. And as long as this goes on, we can’t get started. So can we do that?”
She then encouraged the group again to leave, adding that it was “the polite thing to do.”
“We appreciate that, but this is a public building and we don’t intend on moving,” Frazier said.
Frazier and the staffer continued their back and forth over whether he would leave. Eventually, another woman present, Maria Garcia, spoke up.
“We’re here representing the community that y’all have let suffer because you keep ignoring this pandemic. And that’s really what’s disrespectful. And I’m sorry that we’re being disruptive or whatever. But it’s been disruptive to our lives. The fact that we’re here having to go to work, don’t know if we’re going to catch COVID, don’t know if we have it, can’t get tested, all the funds are drying up. There’s no state facilities to get tested. That’s disrespectful. That’s why we’re here,” Garcia said.
As the tension continued to escalate, eventually police officers with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office stepped in and said that they were detaining Fraizer.
The activist was placed in handcuffs and led out of the building. He was then placed inside a police cruiser and driven away.
A group of people came to protest @GovRonDeSantis response on Covid at a news conference in Duval County. They were very peaceful - but have been detained and forced out of the news conference. “When it comes to public welfare, the governor does not care.” @news6wkmg pic.twitter.com/5ILRbCvRcQ— Nadeen Yanes (@NadeenNews6) January 4, 2022
News 6 reached out to the governor’s press secretary about the incident. Her statement can be read below:
“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.
From my understanding, Mr. Frazier was arrested by Jacksonville police for trespassing.
As a point of fact, Governor DeSantis meets with the public frequently. On New Year’s Eve, he and his wife attended two public events, and yesterday, the governor had a press conference on COVID-19 treatment in Broward County. Members of the press in Florida have opportunities to ask questions of the governor at his press conferences, which take place in different parts of the state on a near-daily basis.”