BLM organizer was hit by car during pro-police caravan in Miami. Now, he faces robbery charge.

David Ovalle, Charles Rabin
,Miami HeraldJuly 21, 2020

One of the chief organizers of Black Lives Matters protests in Miami is facing felony charges after he was accused of stealing a flag from a car during a recent pro-police caravan in downtown Miami.

Jonathan Gartrelle, 31, has been one of the most visible protest figures over weeks of protests in Miami over police brutality. He was jailed Monday night, and released early Tuesday after posting bond.

The arrest comes as the Miami police department has stepped up arrests on Black Lives Matter protesters in recent days, charging those they say are obstructing traffic. Gartrelle himself was struck by an SUV during the pro-Trump caravan on Saturday after stepping in front of the vehicle on the roadway, although police claimed he did not want to pursue charges.

Gartrelle is charged with strong-arm robbery and escape, both felonies, as well as misdemeanor counts of resisting an officer without violence and obstructing a public street.

On Tuesday night, Gartrelle said the charges were “overblown” — and that he took two Trump flags from parked cars and threw them on the ground, never stealing them.

“Their goal is to have me in jail for two weeks, get beaten up by some officers, and distract from the movement,” Gartrelle said.

His supporters, announcing the creation of a new advocacy group called Justice for Miami, immediately called for prosecutors to drop the charges against Gartrelle and other protesters arrested in recent days.

In a statement, the group said “the police in Miami is threatening the victim of a potentially fatal vehicular assault with 30 years in jail simply because they disagree with the speech he’s constitutionally entitled to.”

“Enough is enough,” a group leader, Francois Alexandre, said in a statement.

“Having the police arrest you or threaten you with decades in prison for protesting is the kind of thing petty dictators do. Miami was built by many people escaping that very kind of oppression.”

Protesters across the country have often walked into traffic, and there have been several high-profile incidents of drivers accelerating into the groups. Running over protesters has also become fodder for memes and jokes, which experts have warned emboldens angry motorists.

Gartrelle’s arrest stemmed from a small Black Lives Matter protest that encountered the caravan last Saturday. In a story about the confrontation, WSVN-7 described the caravan as being organized by “Cubans for Trump.” An online flier, posted by Cuban-American actor Alex Otaola, described it as a caravan to “support police and law and order.”

News footage showed Gartrelle walking into the street and being struck by a black SUV flying a large Cuban flag. It appeared he jumped, landing his backside on the hood and rolled off as the SUV accelerated.

According to police, Gartelle immediately approached officers and said “I don’t want to do anything” after being hit. The identity of the driver in the black SUV remains unknown.

A Miami police spokeswoman, Kiara Delva, said Gartrelle refused aid and did not want to press charges. “The police are not speaking to anyone or looking for any vehicles in reference to the incident,” Delva said.

Gartrelle, however, has since said he wants the driver of the black SUV arrested — Monday’s rally in front of Miami Police headquarters was held to publicize the incident, according to his Instagram page.

And Justice for Miami, in its statement, cast Gartrelle as the victim: “Instead of offering help or pursuing the violent hit-and-run perpetrator, the police threatened to arrest Gartrelle for the damage his body caused to the vehicle caravan.”

The footage also showed someone in a light-colored sedan in the adjacent lane holding what appeared to be a pistol pointed out of a driver’s side window. Delva said the department is aware of video of the gun-wielding driver.

“We’re urging anyone who was victimized during this incident to come forward to police so we can further investigate,” she said.

Gartrelle was arrested for what happened after the incident with the black SUV.

Jonathan Gartrelle, 31, a South Beach resident, leads a group of activists during an anti-racism protest near the Torch of Friendship in downtown Miami, Florida, on Saturday, June 13, 2020.More

A Miami police officer said he then saw Gartrelle rejoin the crowd on the sidewalk, then go back into traffic and “was observed removing flags fixed to the passing vehicles, damaging them and discarding them in the roadway,” the report said.

The officer wrote that he tried to arrest Gartrelle, who ran away. Later, a woman who had been in the passenger seat of a white Mercedes told police that Gartrelle was the one who ripped a flag from her hand, the report said. The report did not identify what kind of flag she had been holding.

Miami police used videos on Gartrelle’s Instagram account to build a case against him, the arrest report shows. He was arrested on Monday at the scene of another downtown protest.

Nationwide protests unfolded after the May 25 death of George Floyd, after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee on the man’s neck.

Although protests in Miami have decreased in size, tensions with police have increased, with Miami cops arresting more people in recent days.

In one large protest early Sunday evening police arrested 35 people on North Miami Avenue and Sixth Street for blocking traffic.

They were all charged with obstruction of a public street, highway, road or sidewalk.

The unrest prompted Miami Police Chief Jorge Colina to post a video on the department’s Twitter page showing an arrest of an organizer from different perspectives.

“She said she was targeted because she was an organizer. That is not true,” Colina said, pointing out how the woman continued to block traffic after police told her to move several times.

Justice for Miami, in its statement, disputes Colina’s description of how the protesters operated.

“Over the past few days, the Miami Police Department has aggressively mistreated peaceful protesters, arrested scores of them arbitrarily, and have effectively turned downtown Miami into a police state,” the group said. “Peaceful dissent has been met with police violence. It is time for political and civic leaders to state clearly that such wanton disregard of citizens’ constitutional rights will not be tolerated.”