Police in Pensacola, Florida, broke up a large Easter Sunday block party that took place despite social distancing rules during the COVID-19 pandemic. You can watch video from the block party later in this article.
Mike Wood, public information officer for the Pensacola Police Department, told Heavy in an interview: “We got there early, and the party just kept growing.” He said several hundred people attended. Police decided to approach the situation educationally.
“The officers were explaining to them why they could not do this, why they had to social distance,” he said. “We are not 100% sure that everybody knew about social distancing. We don’t know how much media they watch. Our strategy was to go in there and educate them.” He compared the situation to previous videos showing people gathering for spring break on Florida beaches. The common thread: Young people not taking COVID-19 seriously.
This video by Tadarious Archie of the Pensacola Easter block party has had more than 2.4 million views on Facebook:
A local television station was also at the scene and wrote that the block party occurred “in the Attucks Court community in the 1300-block of W Cervantes St. in Pensacola.”
“Why are we going to be scared to come outside when we don’t even know what we’re looking for?” Wilbert McNeal, one of the party’s organizers, told WEAR-TV. “Corona, COVID-19 — it ain’t coming this way.”
Here’s what you need to know:
Police Say Some People Left But Others Made It ‘Very Clear They Just Did Not Care’
According to Wood, some people left when police showed up, but “most did not.” Police called in additional officers. Eventually, 10 officers and the police chief were at the scene. “Again, they were told why they could not gather,” he said. After a “couple hours,” the party ended without arrest, tickets, or violence, Wood told Heavy.
“We had some who respected it and left, and others made comments like ‘the corona is not coming here,’ and some other language I don’t want to be quoted in,” said Wood. “Some were very clear they just did not care; others did.”
He said he was “absolutely” worried that COVID-19 could have spread further during the party. “There were several hundred people there, so the chances of one or five people having that are probably pretty good,” he said. “I guess we will know in a couple of weeks what sort of impact it may have had. It was very concerning to us. We wanted to disperse people as quickly as possible.”
Some people at the party had masks on, he said. According to Wood, it was an “organized party” that was “supposed to be for kids for Easter. There were kids there.” He said most party attendees were 30 and under, and “it looked more like a social cookout.”
Coronavirus doesn’t care about your race, but, when you have people in housing projects, low-income housing, you have to look at it from their perspectives. It’s easy for us to go home with television and Wi-Fi and air conditioning. But if you have four and five and six people in an apartment, with no cable TV and Wi-Fi, this quarantining sort of starts getting old. It was a beautiful day on Easter, so we had to approach that incident with that in mind.
Thus, he said police didn’t go in with a heavy hand. Instead, they told young people that “what you might not realize is if you go back to your apartment where grandma is, it could kill her.” He said for the most part that worked.
Wood, who has been an officer for more than 30 years, said that “most people in Pensacola are listening” to social distancing guidelines but a “small group is not.” Police have also seen groups of people gathering in parks and at basketball courts. He urged people to “quit thinking about themselves and think about others they could infect.”
You can find Escambia County’s coronavirus informational page here. According to the State of Florida, Florida has 20,737 confirmed COVID-19 cases in Florida residents and 630 cases in non-residents as of April 14. Escambia County has 246 cases.
READ NEXT: Florida Spring Breakers Party in Viral Video