Kent State It Was Not

Some days I love my job. Yesterday was one of those days.

Now, here’s where I could write about the new sports organization for kids in Gulfport and how watching the coaches with the kids made me feel some scrap of hope for a lost demographic. I could describe the great photo I took of a puppy licking a cherub-like toddler’s face. I could tell you about the kid dressed as Batman in the fishing derby.

Yeah, that’s so not how this blog entry is going to go down. No, I’m going to talk about the folks who staged a protest on Gulfport beach to protest the city’s beach tobacco ban.

Let me assure you that I totally respect people’s right to gather and protest, but I do have some serious doubts that outlawing smoking on a public beach violates any civil liberties. How is smoking on a beach more a civil liberty than being able to bring my dog down there (which is illegal in Gulfport) or enjoy a glass of wine while I watch the sunset (also illegal in Gulfport)? However, I’ll hop off the soapbox long enough to tell you why I had so much fun at this smoke-in.

A group of people who feel, for whatever reason, that the ban on tobacco use violates either the law or their civil liberties staged their third smoke-in on Gulfport beach. The first one failed because the city hadn’t put up signs letting people know about the ban, so the police refused to ticket the smokers. The second time a St. Pete attorney managed to get a ticket, but the city dropped the case when the attorney fought the ticket in court (please don’t ask, I really don’t want to go into it right now). Yesterday this determined group of like-minded folks trudged on out to the beach again. I showed up, ready to take a picture of the smokers receiving tickets. I even had visions of getting really lucky and seeing someone led away in handcuffs.

So, there I am, with one certain scene from Basic Instinct running through my head and Alice’s Restaurant (my head is a dark and strange place) playing the soundtrack, waiting.

And waiting.

And waiting.

See, the thing is, no one called the police on the smokers, although the beach had plainly marked signs. Parents, couples, clubs – they were all out in force, but no one appeared bothered enough (or aware of the law enough) to call the police. No one.

Finally, one of the protestors called the police.

On themselves. 

It gets better.

After a bit – I’m guessing 20 minutes or so, but I don’t really know – I see a police car pull up. Finally! Civil disobedients manned their posts, lit their smokes, and smiled in anticipation.

It was not to be.

Seems the officer was en route to another call but – because we’re a small, waterfont-Mayberry type of town – he stopped by, friendly-like, to explain that the police would be by to ticket them once they finished working a rash of vehicle burglaries.

“Please, be patient,” he asked the protestors. “I may not be the one coming back, but somebody will be here eventually.”

It was a little like watching police work in Canada.

“Only in Gulfport do they send out a cop to apologize that no one’s here to arrest you yet,” one protestor said.

The police did return, although before the officer could get down to writing tickets, a sergeant spoke with the protestors.

“Look, we all know why we’re here,” he said. He explained that if everyone insisted on keeping their stogies lit, the paperwork alone would keep one officer from patrolling Gulfport for between two and three hours, and he explained that the police already had their hands kind of full, what with the vehicle burglaries and, you know, crime.

“Out of respect for my officers,” the sergeant said, he would appreciate it if “one of you would like to take the hit” for the smoking ticket. The group conferred and agreed that, except for one of them, they would put out their smokes. The lone smoker – the same attorney as before – went peacefully over to the police car and received his ticket.

The other smokers either put out their cigarettes or – after asking the officer if they could do so legally – moved off the beach to finish their cigars.

Kent State it was not. No pepper spray, no riot regalia. No police brutality. The police are quite friendly.  Really, the Occupy movement should come to Gulfport.

As long as they don’t smoke on the beach.

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I write. I take pictures. I love my dog. I love Florida. My 2016 book, 'Backroads of Paradise' did really well for the publisher and now I feel a ridiculous amount of pressure to finish the second book.