- Florida authorities say some 3,000 people gathered for a block party on May 16.
- On Monday, the police chief noted in a press conference that the public has been urged to avoid large gatherings due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
- Florida is in the first of its three-phase reopening plan and has advised residents to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.
- Authorities said they made seven arrests that night, starting after they saw two men exchange a gun, but residents expressed concern that the officers were unfairly targeting black attendees.
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Florida authorities have released footage showing thousands of people gathering for a block party on May 16 in Spring Hill, despite social-distancing guidelines warning against large gatherings.
The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office released the footage after some partygoers accused deputies of targeting black residents when making arrests. The sheriff’s office said the deputies had intervened only after seeing someone point a long gun out of the passenger-side window of a moving vehicle, and when they saw two men exchanging a gun.
After arresting the men – and Tasing one of them, who Chitwood said resisted arrest – officers were hit with a cup of alcohol, “sucker punched” by another partygoer who fled the scene, and hit with a barstool and mason jar, according to Sheriff Mike Chitwood.
“The behaviour that occurred here overnight was dangerous, senseless, unacceptable, and an embarrassment to our community,” Chitwood said in a statement posted online. “None of it will deter law enforcement from coming back when we’re needed.”
In a press conference Monday, DeLand Police Chief Jason Umberger noted that the public has been urged to avoid large gatherings due to the risk of spreading the coronavirus.
The footage also showed the thousands of partygoers mingling without wearing face masks or maintaining a six-foot distance from one another.
Florida is in the first of its three-phase reopening plan, as Insider’s Haven Orecchio-Egresitz has reported, and has advised residents to avoid social gatherings of more than 10 people.
“Not only was this a public safety issue, but it was a matter of public health,” Umberger said at the May 18 press conference. “No one should be getting together in large groups of 50 or more.”
“The coronavirus affects everyone in our community, and we’re asking for everyone’s cooperation in this matter,” Umberger said.
Seven people were arrested and two law enforcement officers were injured
The event began as a block party to commemorate a resident who was murdered in 2008, but grew chaotic in the evening when the afterparty occurred, according to The West Volusia Beacon, which quoted several attendees who complained about the deputies’ conduct.
“This is what they do to black people,” one attendee told the news outlet. “It’s not fair.”
Another woman who spoke to the outlet questioned why the partygoers were not simply allowed to enjoy themselves that night.
“We are human too – black lives matter. Every life matters,” she said, according to the West Volusia Beacon. “Why do they try to take our humanity? Our pride? It’s not fair to us – we’re all human. We all bleed the same blood. When he made us, he made y’all.”
Ultimately, seven people were arrested that night, according to The West Volusia Beacon. The Volusia County Sheriff’s Office said in the Facebook statement that one deputy sustained a minor knee injury and a DeLand police officer sustained a minor head injury from being hit with the mason jar.
Umberger acknowledged residents’ complaints about racial bias in his remarks Monday, saying “there continues to be some racial tension between Spring Hill and law enforcement,” and adding that his officers have undergone “impartial police training.”
But Umberger also said the arrests at the block party had “nothing to do with race, it has more to do with public safety and law and order.”