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St. Pete protests take disruptive turn

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — Protests in St. Petersburg turned disruptive Wednesday night and a video taken by the Tampa Bay Times showing the interaction between protesters and diners at Parkshore Grill on Beach Drive quickly went viral with thousands of shares. Yet, protesters tell ABC Action News the videos do not tell the full story.

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On Wednesday night, chanting filled the air along Beach Drive as Tampa Bay Times reporter Josh Fiallo caught a moment on camera between protesters and a couple dining at Parkshore Grill.

We don’t know what led up to the encounter, but in the video, a protester is seen sitting down at a couple’s table and refusing to leave even as she picks up the chair and tries to remove him from it.

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“Nope, this is my table!” the woman is heard telling the protester.

He refuses to leave and is joined by a few others who start hurling insults at the couple.

Paul Hewett lives in downtown St. Pete and visits the restaurant often. He found the encounter puzzling.

“Disrupting other people’s dinner… What’s the point of that? Who is that going to win over?” he said, while watching the video of the encounter.

Earlier in the evening, the Tampa Bay Times was also recording as a protester walked across the roof of a car, another beat on a car window and a third hit a skateboard on the hood of the car.

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Police Chief Anthony Holloway says overall the protests were peaceful Wednesday, and have been peaceful for months. St. Petersburg Police didn’t receive any phone calls Wednesday night from either the restaurant management or customers. Holloway also says the owner of the car did not press charges.

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“Our officers were in the area. We were just waiting on a call from the manager to ask us to ask the person to be removed. If we had received that phone call, we would have removed that person from private property,” Holloway explained.

Holloway says since the restaurant is private property, they can’t respond without a formal complaint.

“Peaceful protesting is not going to someone’s table and interrupting so if the manager calls then yes, we will take action,” he added.

ABC Action News caught up with some of the protesters as they took part in a weekly neighborhood cleanup in St. Petersburg Thursday. They wouldn’t talk on camera but told reporter Sarah Hollenbeck that the videos don’t tell the whole story.

They say the driver in the car nearly ran over a protester and that the restaurant patrons were making rude gestures and comments leading up to the encounter.

Lila Porter, who dined at Parkshore Grill for lunch Thursday, says she supports the protesters and the need for change. However, she worries about confrontations escalating. “In my opinion, what they did is totally disrespectful and wrong. That’s out of line. That’s not protesting. That’s people trying to start trouble,” she added.

Protesters plan to march again Thursday night but they’re urging the group to use peaceful demonstrations to get their message across.

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