The Phoenix Flyer

DeSantis press conference shut down; well-known Black activist handcuffed and escorted out

By: and - January 4, 2022 11:47 am

Ben Frazier, a Jacksonville activist, was handcuffed Jan. 4, 2022 before a press conference hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Credit: Screenshot/Florida Channel.

A Tuesday morning press conference hosted by Gov. Ron DeSantis was disrupted after a group of at least seven individuals refused to leave the public health department building in Duval County and demanded to speak to the Republican governor.

Ben Frazier, an activist and Black man, led the protest in Jacksonville, and was eventually forced to leave the room where members of the media gathered for DeSantis’ press conference that was supposed to begin around 10:15 a.m.

Frazier was told by a man who described himself as a facilities manager that the conference was only for “credentialed press” and asked everyone to leave “who is not media.” According to the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville’s website, Frazier serves as the president and is a former journalist.

Frazier remained in the room, saying “We’re not moving, we come in peace.” He continued: “What about the voice of the people? The governor is afraid to meet with the people.”

As law enforcement officers were present in the room, Frazier later was escorted out the building in handcuffs. The group began shouting, “when it comes down to public welfare, this governor does not care.”

Later, News4JAX reported that Frazier was “eventually arrested on a trespassing charge and led from the room in handcuffs.”

“Frazier later shared with News4JAX that he was arrested on a misdemeanor trespassing charge but released on his own recognizance and given a notice to appear in court,” News4JAX added.

State Rep. Michele Rayner, an attorney and a Democrat running for Congress, tweeted Tuesday morning after the event took place. Rayner represents parts of Hillsborough, Manatee, Pinellas, and Sarasota counties.

“No, this isn’t from 1955,” Rayner said. “A Black man dared to refuse to leave until he met with the governor. From my understanding he wasn’t disrespectful. But you know Ronnie can’t handle criticism of any kind. SMDH.”

As of late Tuesday morning, the DeSantis press conference still had not started. The governor and Florida Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo and other state agency officials were supposed to be in attendance.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried issued a statement about the incident, saying:

“The extremely disturbing events we saw take place today, arresting an individual for simply asking to speak with the Governor at a press conference held on government property discussing public health policy, were a realization of our fears surrounding HB1’s enactment. HB1 set a dangerous precedent, disallowing individuals from speaking their minds and peacefully gathering – freedoms guaranteed by the First Amendment. I hope that any charges brought against Mr. Frazier, a respected civil rights activist in the community, are swiftly dropped and apologies issued for infringing on his rights. The Governor should be ashamed.”

Fried, a Democrat, is a gubernatorial candidate for 2022.

Florida Democratic Party Chair Manny Díaz also issued statement:

“What happened to Ben Frazier today was not only unjust, but un-American. While peacefully exercising his First Amendment rights in a public building, Mr. Frazier was removed in handcuffs and placed in the back of a patrol car. To add insult to injury, Mr. Frazier, who is disabled, was not even permitted to use his electric wheelchair to leave.
“Sadly, in Ron DeSantis’ Florida, constitutional rights only seem to be respected for people who agree with the Governor and his political agenda. The First Amendment exists so that citizens like Mr. Frazier can hold their government accountable without fear of retribution. Governor DeSantis should issue an apology to Mr. Frazier and ensure that no Floridian is ever subject to such a miscarriage of justice again.”
On the Republican Party of Florida’s Twitter account, the Florida GOP tweeted: “This isn’t the first time Ben Frazier is led out of a room in handcuffs. He is a well-known activist and Democrat with a criminal record who tried to stand in the way of residents learning about life-saving COVID treatments.” The Phoenix has not confirmed the allegation of a “criminal record.”
In another tweet, the Florida GOP said: “This is a double standard. If a Republican activist entered a Biden press briefing and refused to leave when asked, they would be detained – and the media wouldn’t make a peep.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.