JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — A Jacksonville community activist, who was escorted out in handcuffs ahead of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' scheduled news conference, tells First Coast News wanted to "hold the governor accountable."
In an interview following the incident, Northside Coalition Founder Ben Frazier said that the governor should be willing to have an open conversation with members of the community.
"I think it's absolutely appalling," said Frazier. 'The governor should be willing to sit down and talk with people who have differing points of view. He should not attempt to stifle people from expressing themselves..."
Prior to the start of the press conference, an aide to the governor asked anyone who is not the “media” to leave the area. Frazier argued that he had a right to peacefully assemble in a public building and ask DeSantis questions.
After some back and forth with staffers, Frazier was placed in handcuffs.
Frazier says he was held in the back of a JSO cruiser outside the Florida Department of Health in Duval County for 45 minutes and given a citation for trespassing after a warning. He has to appear before a judge within 10 days.
According to First Amendment Attorney Jennifer Mansfield, though the Department of Health is a public building, it is not a traditional public forum, where free speech is protected.
"Just because a piece of properties owned by the government does not necessarily make it a traditional public forum," Mansfield said. "So things like parks and streets are traditional public forum because they are the type of locations that historically have been used in which to express your views to the government. Whereas an office building where the government conducts work at, you know, it is acknowledged that people wouldn't be able to do their work if they constantly had people there, like chanting and protesting and holding up signs and stuff.”
The governor's office sent First Coast News the following statement in response to Frazier's detainment and citation:
"The purpose of an official 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. Press conferences are not 'private events,' because members of the press can RSVP and attend, and they broadcast the press conference to the public.
The protester detained by Jacksonville police for trespassing this morning is not a member of the press. Mr. Frazier is an activist who has disrupted official proceedings several times before, including a State Board of Education meeting and a City Council meeting that was forced to adjourn early due to his disruptive behavior.
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.
The White House is also a government building, so it is public property. If Mr. Frazier had attempted to enter a White House press briefing to 'protest peaceably' in front of President Biden, Mr. Frazier would likewise have been removed and detained. The only difference would be the liberal media’s reaction, or lack thereof."