Community activist arrested ahead of DeSantis press conference

TALLAHASSEE – Ben Frazier, a community activist from Jacksonville, was arrested and escorted away from a government building where Gov. Ron DeSantis was scheduled to hold a press conference on Tuesday.

The confrontation began when DeSantis assistants asked those at the press conference at the Florida Department of Health building in Duval County to show their media credentials. The event was only open to accredited journalists, they said.

Frazier, 71, and a small group of citizens did not have identifying information, but refused to leave the room. The disagreement between DeSantis staff members – who kept asking Frazier and his group to leave – and activists aired on The Florida Channel.

“It’s a public building, and we have no plans to move,” Frazier told attendees at one point. The governor was not in the room at the time.

Frazier is the chairman of the Jacksonville Northside Coalition, which says his mission is “Stand up against racial, economic and social injustice”.

He told DeSantis assistants that he was there to meet with the governor.

As they argued with assistants to the governor, activists challenged DeSantis’ response to the coronavirus pandemic, the riot legislation he advocated in the 2021 legislative session, and his rhetoric on critical theory of the race.

After several minutes, deputies from the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office handcuffed Frazier and led him out of the building. While they did, Frazier asked the police why he was the only person in handcuffs.

Frazier faces a trespass charge, a first-degree misdemeanor punishable by one year in prison, according to a citation document obtained from the Jacksonville sheriff’s office.

Frazier did not immediately respond to a text and a call for comment on Tuesday afternoon.

Asked about the confrontation at the press conference, DeSantis said, “I have no idea what happened.”

He and other senior health officials were in Jacksonville to discuss monoclonal antibody treatments and testing strategies for COVID-19. At the event, officials blamed the Biden administration for not delivering enough treatment in Florida during this latest wave of the virus. The DeSantis administration fought with the federal government for access to monoclonal antibody treatments – many of which appear to be ineffective against the omicron variant of the virus – for days.

The governor was joined by Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, Agency for Healthcare Administration Secretary Simone Marsiller and Florida Emergency Management Division Director Kevin Guthrie.

Asked about the confrontation with Frazier, a spokesperson for DeSantis said the activist was interfering with the governor’s ability to provide important information to the public.

“Sir. Frazier is an activist, not a member of the press. Every citizen has the right to demonstrate in public places, but not to enter a secure facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent the transmission of information to the public, ”spokeswoman Christina Pushaw wrote in a statement on Tuesday.

Rep. Ramon Alexander, D-Tallahassee, who will be the next Democratic leader at Florida House, lambasted the DeSantis team for expelling Frazier from the press conference.

“Governor DeSantis’ ‘Free State of Florida’ hypocrisy was on full display today in Jacksonville. It’s only free if you agree with him, and you can only attend his events if you’re a cheerleader for his political ambitions, ”Alexander said in a statement.


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