Ron DeSantis hounded during press conference: "This governor is an enemy of the people"

A 71-year old activist was arrested at a Florida presser while protesting the state's coronavirus policies

By Jon Skolnik

Staff Writer

Published January 5, 2022 4:33AM (EST)

Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Florida Governor, Ron DeSantis (Paul Hennessy/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

A community activist was arrested at a Florida press conference held by Gov. Ron DeSantis on Tuesday after he protested the state's protest and coronavirus policies. 

The confrontation began when DeSantis' aides began asking attendees for their press credentials at the Florida Department of Health prior to the governor's entrance. One attendee, Ben Frazier, the 71-year old president of Jacksonville's Northside Coalition, was asked to leave the room because he wasn't a journalist. 

But Fraizer, who was there to challenge the state's lack of COVID-19 precautions, stood his ground, along with a group of likeminded citizens. "This is a public building, and we don't intend on moving," he said. "We're here to hold the governor accountable."

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"That's not the proper way to do that," an aide responded. 

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"What's the proper way, sir, not to follow our First Amendment rights?" Frazier asked. "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."

Frazier's remarks refer to Florida's "anti-riot" bill signed back in April of last year, which stiffened the penalties associated with participating in "riots." Critics have broadly demurred the measure as an attempt to silence free speech and peaceful protest. 

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During the presser, Frazier pointed to a lawsuit by several states currently aimed at challenging the bill's constitutionality.

"This governor is an enemy of the people," he said. "We have a right to be here and we are not moving."

Eventually, Jacksonville Sheriff's Office deputies put handcuffs on the community organizer and escorted him out of the building. Frazier, a Black man, asked the officers why he was the only one being arrested. 

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Frazier faces one trespassing charge, which is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.

Asked about the incident, a DeSantis spokesperson told The Tampa Bay Times that Frazier had "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 development comes amid a massive upsurge in COVID-19 cases throughout the Sunshine State. This week, DeSantis, who has vociferously opposed mask and vaccine mandates, said that Democratic COVID policies have been driven by a sense of "hysteria," disputing the science of common-sense health precautions.

By Jon Skolnik

Jon Skolnik was a former staff writer at Salon.

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