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Florida activist handcuffed while trying to attend DeSantis news conference

Ben Frazier, a community activity, was handcuffed after refusing to leave a room where Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) was to hold a news conference on Jan. 4. (Video: Christina Kittle via Storyful)
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The handcuffing of a Florida community activist who wanted to sit in on a news conference Tuesday with Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) quickly overshadowed the governor’s daily message criticizing the Biden administration’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Footage of Ben Frazier being handcuffed in Jacksonville spread across the Internet, leading Democrats to criticize the governor for the community organizer’s detention.

DeSantis’s news conferences, in which he often blames the Biden administration for holding up monoclonal antibody treatment doses, are usually tightly controlled. But Tuesday’s event at the Duval County Public Health building went far off script when Frazier, president of the Northside Coalition of Jacksonville, refused to leave the room where a podium was set up for the governor and state surgeon general to speak.

As Florida shatters its record for new coronavirus cases, Democrats ask, ‘Where is Ron DeSantis?’

Frazier said he wanted to listen, then talk to DeSantis about the pandemic and the “antiriot” bill that the governor signed into law last year. The Northside Coalition is one of several groups that have sued the DeSantis administration over the new law, which they say violates the First Amendment by placing limitations on public demonstrations.

“I didn’t think I’d end up in handcuffs,” the 71-year-old said later in the afternoon.

Florida Agriculture Secretary Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is running for governor, went on Twitter to call out DeSantis, who is running for reelection, for Frazier’s detention, as did state Rep. Angie Nixon (D) of Jacksonville and others.

Frazier, who uses a motorized scooter to help him get around because of complications from a stroke, was handcuffed and walked out of the room to a police car. He said officers detained him there for 40 minutes, then released him with a notice to appear in court for a trespassing charge.

On Twitter, DeSantis spokeswoman Christina Pushaw evoked the Jan. 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol to defend Frazier’s detention.

In a subsequent statement, she said: “Every citizen has the right to protest in public places — but not to trespass in a secured facility in order to disrupt a press briefing and prevent essential information from being conveyed to the public.”

Frazier is prominent in Jacksonville, where in 1979 he became the city’s first Black television news anchor. He says he still wants to meet with DeSantis on behalf of the coalition.