Pensacola, FL – It took Pensacola police officers two hours to break up an Easter Sunday barbecue in a housing project attended by more than 100 people in violation of state and local stay-at-home orders (videos below).
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced the order for residents to stay at home on April 1 but most counties had already issued their own orders by then.
But despite the order, on April 12, video was shared to social media of more than 100 people gathered together outside the Attucks Court apartment project in Pensacola, WOFL reported.
Videos showed police officers on foot and in patrol vehicles attempting to break up the gathering.
They also showed people clustered together celebrating the Eastern holiday and very few standing with six feet of distance between them.
The video also showed that almost nobody, other than the police officers, was wearing a mask as has been recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC).
Pensacola Police Spokesman Officer Mike Wood said that Pensacola Police Chief Tommi Lyter and some of his officers responded to the barbecue to encourage those participating to disperse and practice social distancing, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
“Chief Lyter was there the entire time,” Officer Wood said. “The officers were telling the people not only to disperse, but they were explaining social distancing to them and why it was so important.”
He said it took police two hours to disperse the crowd and put an end to the illegal block party, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
The videos showed the attendees had no interest in complying with social-distancing or stay-at-home orders.
Officer Wood said Pensacola police officers have not been told to issue citations or arrest people who have violated the stay-at-home order, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
He said the proper protocol was what was done at the Easter Sunday affair – disperse and educate the crowd.
“We’re not at that point of making arrests or writing tickets,” Officer Wood said. “That would be a decision that would come from above, it could be Chief Lyter, it could be the mayor, it could be the governor, we’re just not at that point yet.”
The officer said the Easter Sunday event was the largest gathering police have had to break up in Pensacola since the pandemic restrictions began more than a month ago, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
“This one took two hours, but we’ve had groups before, 20 or so people playing basketball and we would go up and ask them to disperse and they did,” he explained. “Overall we haven’t had a big issue with it until yesterday.”
Officer Wood said police would be monitoring the Attucks Court complex for additional gatherings, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
Pensacola Mayor Grover Robinson announced the closure of all playgrounds and shared equipment on Monday, and even went so far as to have basketball hoops removed from their polls to discourage games.
The parks, however, remained open, the Pensacola News Journal reported.
“Gov. DeSantis’ safer-at-home [order] allows participation in recreational activities, we want to provide our residents opportunities to maintain a healthy lifestyle at our parks during this COVID-19 pandemic,” Robinson said. “Please remember, even in some of our parks you may see heavy parking, but we are continuing to maintain and watch all those parks to make sure people in there are conducting themselves per the order.”
Watch videos of the Easter Sunday gathering here below: