Nikki Fried, Lauren Book among nearly a dozen arrested while protesting abortion ban

Dozens of demonstrators gathered in front of Tallahassee City Hall Monday
Published: Apr. 3, 2023 at 8:46 PM EDT|Updated: Apr. 4, 2023 at 3:34 PM EDT
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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Nikki Fried and Senator Lauren Book were released from the Leon County Jail Monday night.

Both were charged with trespassing on property after warning. Fried posted a $500 bond, while Book was released without bond, according to court documents.

Fried is set to be arraigned on May 18, while Book will be back in court on April 27.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (WCTV) - Two of Florida’s top Democrats, Florida Senate minority leader Lauren Book and former Florida gubernatorial candidate Nikki Fried, were arrested with nine others at Tallahassee City Hall Monday as they protested the Florida Senate passing a six-week abortion ban.

The 11 arrests came after dozens of protesters gathered in the capital city in opposition to the contentious abortion ban. The bill is a more extreme version of Florida’s current 15-week ban, which is currently being challenged in the state Supreme Court.

Demonstrators shouted, “Shame! Shame!” as police handcuffed their peers in front of City Hall.

Just hours earlier, lawmakers debated the bill in the capital. But following a series of shouts interrupting proceedings, Senate President Kathleen Passidomo made all spectators leave the gallery. The vote was taken behind closed doors, passing 26-13.

City “unable to accommodate,” protesters arrested for “trespass after warning”

Following the arrests of Book and Fried, who is also the chair of the Florida Democratic Party, the City of Tallahassee released a statement. The city said it had “been working with protest organizers for over a week” in preparation for Monday’s demonstration. Last Friday, however, the discussions appeared to change direction.

Tallahassee Police told protesters they must leave the area in front of City Hall by 8 p.m. or be arrested. As demonstrators sat in a circle singing “Lean on Me” and holding hands, officers approached and began handcuffing the 11 individuals who remained in front of the government building.

The demonstrators were arrested for “trespass after warning,” according to the statement.

A sign outside City Hall states “park hours” are from sunrise to sunset. It is unclear when the sign was posted, but Ryan Ray, aide to City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, said in a Tweet on Friday that the posting was new. WCTV is working to determine when these rules were established and posted.

Fried and Book were released before midnight Monday. As of 12:30 a.m. Tuesday, the other 9 arrestees remained in prison.

It is unclear why the activists gathered at City Hall. However, a recent controversial change in procedure from the state requires groups to obtain sponsorship from a state agency ahead of gathering at the Florida Capital. City hall is across the street from the capitol.

Elected officials raise free speech concerns

Many lawmakers spoke out online against the arrests, criticizing the city and state.

Tallahassee City Commissioner Jack Porter questioned the city administration’s judgment following the events on Monday.

“Free speech and the right to peaceably assemble are fundamental American freedoms,” she wrote in a Tweet. “I cannot speak for the conscience of this Commission majority, but I certainly do not support arresting protesters for exercising their constitutional rights in opposing extreme anti-choice legislation.”

U.S. Representative Maxwell Frost responded to posts online about the protest, calling it “disgusting.” He asked the Tallahassee Police Department and Mayor John Dailey to release the activists.

“We need our Democratic municipal governments to stand with the people against the far-right DeSantis regime,” he wrote.

The city said in its press release that TPD worked to provide a “safe environment for demonstrators” on Monday.

“TPD encourages individuals exercising their First Amendment right of peaceful assembly to do so in accordance with the law. TPD supports non-disruptive demonstrations and works diligently to protect and uphold the rights of citizens every day,” the statement said.

But City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow disagreed.

“The Dailey/Goad administration continue to trample on the constitution. You can’t peacefully protest in the public square?” he wrote. “What is this— North Korea?”

Next steps for HB 300

The demonstration is one of a series of rallies against the abortion ban seen in the capital city and state since its proposal. Proponents of the Republican-sponsored legislation say it will save unborn children.

“For me it just boils back to, at the moment of conception, a life is created,” Senate Republican Colleen Burton said. “A life is created. An innocent life is created.”

Democrats say it will put women’s lives at risk.

“I trust women to make the right choices for themselves,” Senate Democrat Lori Berman said. “Decisions about abortion should be between a woman and her doctor and her trusted circle of confidants, not her legislators.”

The bill makes exceptions for rape, incest or to save the life of the mother. In those cases, a woman would be given up to 15 weeks to get an abortion. She would have to provide some kind of documentation, like a police report or medical record, to prove she falls into one of those categories.

The bill still needs to clear the House before it heads to Gov. DeSantis’s desk.

Correction: A previous version of this article said more than a dozen people were detained.

City arrests pro-abortion protesters including Nikki Fried, Lauren Book

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