Update: Fort Lauderdale police spokesperson Tracy Figone stated: "This is a open, pending case, therefore Fort Lauderdale Police Department will not be commenting on this incident.The individual involved can make an official complaint with our Internal Affairs Unit if they feel they have been "targeted". "
On Saturday, at least 50 Black Lives Matter activists took off from the Fort Lauderdale courthouse on Broward Boulevard. They stomped down SE Third Avenue, protesting racist police in memory of Sandra Bland, the 28-year-old black woman who allegedly committed suicide in a Texas jail last month after being abused by a cop. This group of South Florida activists was upset that Fort Lauderdale Police Officer Jeffrey Feldewert was reinstated earlier this month after he posted racist comments on social media last December.
But an hour and half into the march, protesters collided with police as they blocked Las Olas Boulevard while turning east. Tensions flared when a driver bumped a protester. Suddenly, plainclothes cops swarmed and ordered protesters onto the sidewalk.
“Whose streets? Our streets!” activists chanted. “Hands up; don't shoot.”
Officers pushed into the crowd. Some protesters complied and scooted onto the sidewalk. Others didn't. That's when Detective Jack Dicristofalo honed his sights on 24-year-old Nicolas Ubiera, a 275-pound black man who, according to a police report, was standing “statue still.”
Dicristofalo then told Ubiera to move onto the sidewalk. “I don't have to go anywhere,” Ubiera responded, unflinching, according to a police report. The officer leaned in, inches away from Ubiera. “Don't you touch me. I don't have to move,” he allegedly told police.
Dicristofalo told Ubiera he was under arrest and to place his arms behind his back. The charges? Resisting an officer without violence and obstructing traffic. Florida is one of a handful of states where standing still is considered resisting arrest.
And Ubiera remained still. He was standing so still that Detective S. Smith had to force Ubiera's arms behind his back, a police report states. Then Dicristofalo quickly handcuffed him.
“I'm a veteran. I served in Afghanistan and suffer from PTSD and anxiety,” Ubiera tells New Times. “I'm not sure who said it, but when I told the officers I was a vet and have PTSD and not to touch me, someone went, 'Yeah, right. Sure.
Ubiera is the fourth Black Lives Matter protester to be arrested in Fort Lauderdale since February. He is not affiliated with any activist organization but has participated in protests around the country. “I don't want to be the face of anything,” he says. “I know that in this country you have to fight for what you believe in. That's why I fought in Afghanistan – for our civil liberties.”
Jillian Pim, a member of Food Not Bombs, attended the protest. When she saw police handcuff Ubiera, she started recording video on her phone. Her hands were trembling.
“Things got emotional when a protester was hit by a car,” Pim tells New Times. “We all thought that the protester who was hit and arguing was going to get arrested. But the cops walked right past her — a white female — to the large black man in the crowd.”
Pim isn't alone. Other witnesses think Ubiera was unfairly targeted because of how he looks.
“The police were trying to intimidate people not to protest,” Didier Ortiz, co-chair of the Broward Green Party, who witnessed Ubiera's arrest, speculates. “I feel that he was targeted because of his image, stature, and his color and also to intimidate any new faces from coming back.”
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Ubiera's arrest soured the mood. Instead of continuing on to the Fort Lauderdale Police station, activists marched toward the Fort Lauderdale jail to show solidarity with Ubiera. Activists who asked not to be named posted his $100
As the son of a Miami-Dade Police officer, Ubiera has always been wary of police. He says he'd overhear their inappropriate, off-the-cuff comments at his home. He always wanted to fight for Americans and their rights. When he turned 18, he joined the Army. In June 2011, he deployed to south Afghanistan. He returned a year later. In July 2013, he finished his enlistment and returned to South Florida. Three months later, the nightmares and anxiety set in. He was diagnosed with PTSD and prescribed medication.
Ubiera moved to Davie and started taking classes at Broward college, where he studies political science. “I either want to run for public office or work as a liaison for veteran affairs — anything related to defending rights,” he says.
Even after being arrested, Ubiera is not dissuaded. He plans to continue protesting with the Black Lives Matter movement. “One day, these people, these cops, this opposition will realize they were on the wrong side of history,” he adds.