Tampa, Florida-- Fireworks were expected, but organizers of a town hall meeting on health care reform were caught off guard Thursday night by just how explosive the issue became.

Hundreds showed up for the 6:00 forum held at the Children's Board of Hillsborough County on Palm Avenue in Tampa. The auditorium which holds around 250 people, filled up so quickly eventually Tampa Police were ordered to begin turning people away.

Inside, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa and State Rep. Betty Reed barely made it through opening remarks before angry protestors began shouting and interrupting their remarks.

Moments later, violence broke out just outside the main auditorium doors, prompting police to close off the meeting room. A freelance photojournalist was among those roughed up suffering damage to both his glasses and camera equipment.

"That's the most violent anyone has been towards me," said Mark Bishop, who drove from Orlando to video tape the event. "It was surprising to say the least."

At least one person was treated for minor injuries following the altercation and could be seen on video with a shirt partially torn off his body.

Outside, both those for and against President Obama's health care reform ideas chanted and yelled, at times banging on the outside of the auditorium windows. Some argued face to face in the parking lot, shouting and screaming at each other as police officers looked on.

"We walk a fine line between freedom of speech and public safety," said one of the commanding Tampa Police officers on scene who indicated no arrests were made.

Not long into the meeting, Rep. Castor was escorted out of the building after being encouraged by an event organizer to leave. It appeared the congresswoman gave up on trying to get her points across after the crowd inside grew unruly.

Those on all sides of the issue say people were so passionate and outspoken about healthcare reform, it was hard for any one person to speak.

"They think they're exercising their right to free speech, but they're only exercising their right to disrupt civil discourse," said George Guthrie, who drove from Largo to attend Thursday night's meeting.

Andrew Reder, a recent college graduate against Obama's ideas for health care reform, was among those yelling during the meeting.

"There were clearly people who were very, very upset," said Reder, who feels some people were shut out of the meeting. "People are concerned about the direction of the county right now."

But Reder, who eventually made his way inside, admits very little was accomplished in discussing the actual issue.

"Somewhere in all the screaming, no one got heard."

Tampa Police eventually began ordering anyone not inside the meeting, to leave the Children's Board property. Journalists covering the protests outside were among those told they could not stay.

Event organizers say they grossly underestimated the turnout, but plan on rescheduling the event for a bigger venue in the future, in hopes of a more civil discussion where everyone can have their opinion heard.

Related Story - Pelosi: Protests won't derail health care overhaul
Anticipating problems at health care forums, Florida Democratic Party Chair Karen Thurman released the following statement today:
"Throughout the summer, we have been reaching out to Floridians to engage in an important debate on the future our health care system. We have heard story after story from people who are struggling to get the care they need. "Recently, their thoughtful discussions are being interrupted by angry mobs - well funded and organized by Washington special interests - attempting to drown out the voices of the hard-working Floridians who are desperate for health insurance reform. These groups are not concerned about Americans' access to quality heath care, but are extreme ideologues, only interested in 'breaking' the President and thwarting the change Americans voted for last November."
Healthcare reform sparks meeting mayhem | 10connects.com | Tampa, St. Petersburg, Clearwater

Opponents of President Obama’s health care plan try to get into a heated town hall meeting in Ybor City on Thursday night.

Protesters in Ybor City drown out health care summit on Obama's proposal - St. Petersburg Times

Fists Pounding on Glass, Right-Wing Violence Stops Tampa Town Hall
Jeffrey FeldmanAuthor of Framing The Debate, Founder of Frameshop (frameshopisopen.com)
Posted: August 6, 2009 09:19 PM

With fists pounding on exterior windows like a street mob out of a 1930s newsreel, a crowd of right-wing agitators against health insurance reform descended on a town hall meeting in Tampa, Florida, "banging on windows" until police and organizers were forced to end the event. The result? A violent mob silenced the voices of each and every American desperate to find a way out of the endless cycle of fear, shame and family bankruptcy brought on by an inhumane, profit-driven health insurance market. Moreover, by using violence to shut down civic discussion between neighbors, this right-wing horde trampled underfoot one of the most sacred and historic symbols of American democracy.


Tampa is a warning. If the use of violent street mob tactics persists--if more and more right-wing mobs pound on windows and create a threatening environment to shut down town hall discussions, a line will have been crossed that may have dire consequences for this country.

How disgraceful it would be if a few right-wing mobs--egged on by a few corrupt politicians and a handful of egotistical broadcast media figures--pushed this country across that line separating Democracy from political violence in the name of derailing a reform effort intended to help tens of millions of American families.

Disgraceful indeed.
Jeffrey Feldman: Fists Pounding on Glass, Right-Wing Violence Stops Tampa Town Hall