Things got interesting last night at the Fort Lauderdale City Commission meeting. Instead of the usual ho-hum municipal mechanics, a vocal group of protesters stole the show, and the outburst of civil disobedience ended with an arrest. Afterward, mayor Jack Seiler suggested the arrest was justified.
The Dream Defenders have been responsible for a number of high-profile demonstrations nationwide about police brutality and behavior in the last simmering months since Ferguson, Tamir Rice, and "I can't breathe" became hot buttons in the cultural conversation. Last night, a local group of Defenders assembled at the Fort Lauderdale city meeting to make a statement.
The protesters reportedly chose last night to assemble because the commission was ready to pass an agenda item honoring the work of Fort Lauderdale Police at December's Winterfest Boat Parade. There, the Dream Defenders as well as other protesters had attempted to gum up the annual festivities with demonstrations, an effort that led to two arrests.
Last night, Dream Defender Jasmen Roger, one of the members arrested at the parade, told the Sun Sentinel the group was "upset that the police 'were being awarded for their negative behavior'" at Winterfest.
According to the paper, as the meeting got underway, the roughly 15 protesters began making a disturbance when they learned they wouldn't be able to speak at the meeting. One demonstrator, 22-year-old Demetrius Vaughn (@Why_MetriusTho on Twitter), wouldn't let go of a public microphone and announced, "The Police Department told me they would shoot me," the paper says. He was quickly arrested by Fort Lauderdale cops.
Then things got interesting. What could have been an ugly incident actually turned into a victory for organizers. Instead of melting off discouraged, the Dream Defenders hopped on social media. On Twitter, #FreeDee became a rallying cry last night.
We will not sit idly by as you continue to brainwash our children into thinking that their culture doesn't matter. #FreeDee— saint easy (@worthaMille) February 4, 2015
According to the Dream Defender feed, about 20 supporters waited outside the Fort Lauderdale jail for their friend's release.
Fellow supporters quickly jumped online to crowd-source funds for Vaughn's bail. Thanks to social media, it looks like the crew raised the $1,000 needed to spring him in about three hours.
After the hubbub, protester Rafael de Mendoza told New Times, "We went to the City Commission meeting to make it known that the fact they were going to give them an award for that is not just ironic, considering the way the police are, but it's actually a slap in the face to all the people that are victims of the police."
Of Vaughn's arrest, he said, "They didn't let Demetrius speak or ask him to leave. They immediately attacked and accosted him, started grabbing him, choking him, and pulling him down to the ground and violently took him outside. Not only was that an injustice to him but it's an injustice to anyone who tries to speak up. If that's how they're going to react to anyone who has issues with what they're doing, how is our society ever going to become better? Every time someone tries to speak up, they're criminalized and caged."
Reached by phone, Fort Lauderdale Mayor Jack Seiler said, "As I understand it, they came to disrupt the ceremony to honor our police, and they came there with the intent to create a civil disturbance... I knew when the meeting started this group was up to something. We start every meeting with an invocation, and they intentionally ignored that, which is fine -- this is America; nobody has to participate in an invocation. But then we followed that with the Pledge of Allegiance, and they refused to stand for the pledge. They refused to acknowledge the county commissioner, and they were disrespectful during the pledge, so at that point in time, I knew they were up to something."
He denies that they weren't allowed to speak and says they're welcome to take a lie detector test: "Everybody in Fort Lauderdale can speak... They did not sign up to speak."
Seiler sounded dismayed: "It's just disappointing, because I have four kids between the ages of 17 and 22. I understand this generation. I work closely with the youth in the community. It's just sad that there's no attempt to effect change through a civil dialogue or a respectful process."
On this protest being a response to police reaction during December protest, Seiler said, "I wasn't even aware of a Black Lives Matter protest during the parade, and I was there the whole night."
We've also reached out to Fort Lauderdale PD for the report on Vaughn's arrest, which we'll post here once it's in. Check back for other updates as well.
Reporter Ray Downs contributed to this report.
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