JACKSONVILLE (CBSMiami) – A group of residents were led away by police, one in handcuffs, from a room where Gov. Ron DeSantis was scheduled to give a news conference Tuesday morning.
It began when an organizer asked Ben Frazier, community organizer and president of Jacksonville’s Northside Coalition, to leave the room at the Florida Department of Health- Duval County. But Frazier held firm to his stance that he had every right to be there.READ MORE: Man Held Without Bond In Killing Of Baby, Babysitter In Coral Springs
“We’re here to hold the governor accountable,” said Frazier.
“That’s not the proper way to do that,” replied the organizer.
“What’s the proper way, sir, not to follow our First Amendment rights. Public expression, sir, it’s critical to our democracy. This governor has stood against our rights to protest and to assemble peaceably. It is wrong,” said Frazier.
Frazier pointed out there is a lawsuit filed against the DeSantis administration over the protest laws.
“We have a right our First Amendment rights, we can express them peaceably. And that is what we are doing here. This governor is, this governor is an enemy of the people,” said Frazier.
“You too are an enemy of you. Yes, sir. You are you’re attempting to stop us from gathering peaceably in a public building. That, sir, is appalling and absurd. This is a public meeting. This is a public official. This is a public building. We have a right to be here and we are not moving,” Frazier added.
Frazier then demanded to see the governor.
“We are not moving. Now, where is the governor, is he going to run and hide or is he going to face the people. Go get him, we are waiting for him,” he said.
WATCH: Ben Frazier, Others Stand Their Ground When Asked To Leave
Frazier said not only would the governor not face them, of late he’s not faced the people of Florida during the COVID-19 surges.
“Your governor, by the way, throughout this pandemic, has been asleep at the wheel. And in recent weeks, during the upsurge of the variant, this governor has been mysteriously missing in action. We are suggesting to you sir, and to the rest of the world, that when it comes down to the public welfare, this governor does not care. When it comes down to the people’s welfare this governor does not care. Here is our position, it’s time for him to address the people, got and get him.”READ MORE: Report: South Florida Counties Have High COVID Levels, Despite CDC Numbers
“We have an ongoing pandemic in the world and this man is coming down from Tallahassee and doesn’t want the public to be in the press conference. What sense does that make,” said Wells Todd, with Take ‘Em Down Jacksonville, who was sitting near Frazier.
The back and forth going nowhere, the organizer left.
The facilities manager then came in asking to see everyone’s press credentials, explaining that while the building is a state building, they conduct private business in some areas. He then asked everyone who was not with the media to leave the room or risk being charged with trespassing.
The group stood their ground and he left.
Moments later a representative of the governor’s office came in and tried to address the situation. She said the governor would be glad to have a private conversation with them, but their actions were disrupting the start of the press conference.
“We would like to get something arranged with you guys so we can have this conversation, make sure that it’s constructive. So let’s go ahead and do that. Let’s get us back on to the press conference, please. We’d like to get started,” she said.
She said they couldn’t start the press conference until they left.
“We are happy to interact with you guys but they have to leave. We’re having a private press conference, we don’t allow the members of the public to come to the press conference,” she added.
After going back and forth with the group, Frazier was put in handcuffs and led out of the room which was then cleared.
Frazier was arrested but released on his own recognizance.
DeSantis had a briefing with state health officials elsewhere in the building. The governor held a news conference in Naples later in the day to discuss Omicron, testing guidance, and treatment.
State Senator Shevrin Jones released a statement Tuesday afternoon, regarding Frazier’s arrest.MORE NEWS: COVID-19 Testing Site Finder
“Mr. Frazier is a pillar in the greater Jacksonville community and a longtime organizer dedicated to advancing progress on the issues that impact people’s daily lives. Today’s arrest was a troubling violation of his rights and yet another attack on Floridians’ freedoms from Gov. DeSantis and his team, supposed ‘public servants’ whose salaries are funded directly by taxpayers. The Governor has a responsibility to every Floridian – not just those who support his political ambitions – and owes the people real answers on this latest erosion of public trust.”