The streets of Sarasota have, once again, returned to calm today--mercifully so--after two days of unimpeded rioting by supporters of the public education tax extension that was approved by voters in Tuesday's referendum balloting, thanks to the overwhelming presence of Florida National Guard troops patrolling throughout the city and various other trouble spots in the county. Local authorities, unable to control the hordes of celebrants, had first contacted the Florida Highway Patrol for assistance, but quickly realized that the situation was out of control and appealed to Gov. Charlie Crist for assistance.
The governor, locked in a heated US Senate race with challenger, FL Congressman Marco Rubio, at first said he was reluctant to appear anti-education, but when told that Rubio viewed the wholesale violence going on in Sarasota as "populist cathartic rage", Crist stepped to the fore and ordered in the troops. Said the governor, "If that little Cuban is for it, then I'm against it, whatever it is. And you can quote me on that. Except for the 'little Cuban' thing maybe....."
The violence began when it became clear that the tax extension would pass, despite Elections Supervisor Kathy Dent's concern that union goons made up primarily of girl's phys. ed. teachers were involved in widespread voter intimidation at several polling places. The jubilant celebration soon turned ugly when the throng of teachers and their supporters, including several thousand students, some as young as second-graders, began smashing out storefront windows in downtown Sarasota, overturning cars and setting them on fire.
At one point, the out-of-control mob went berserk when a school district van delivered the spokesman for the tax opponents, Walt Augustinowicz, into their midst, hands tied behind his back and a hood over his head. The teachers began beating him with rulers and wooden pointers, before hanging his lifeless body from a traffic signal at the corner of Ringling and Main. Lori White, the normally soft-spoken head of Sarasota County schools, appeared energized from the bloodlust, shouting at the dangling corpse, "Who's your daddy now, bitch? Sit up straight when I'm talking to you! Don't have much to say now, do you, Mister Tough Guy? Woooooooo!!!", while flashing the 'hook-em horns' hand gesture, then taking a long swig from a champagne bottle given to her by a colleague before pouring the balance of its contents over his head.
Several liquor stores were looted, fueling the horde's growing appetite for violence. Fires burned throughout the city as firefighters and local police refused to confront the rioters. Said one fireman, "If we can't get police protection to get to the fires, we're not going in alone. Well, that and because our union steward told us that we're not going in as a professional courtesy to the Sarasota Classified/Teachers Association."
As dawn broke Wednesday morning, thick black clouds of smoke rose above the condos and office towers of downtown Sarasota. Fires raged unabated, while union reps for teachers and public safety wrangled with contractual language that would allow emergency personnel to extinguish the blaze without giving the appearance of stepping over the teachers union de facto picket line.
With nightfall on Wednesday, a second night of violence and wanton destruction of property began in earnest as roving bands of educators and other thugs roamed the littered streets of the darkened city, although the smoldering fires and smoky haze did give the little town somewhat of a candlelit glow that was undeniably appealing, not unlike that a beautiful blonde languorously smoking a cigarette across the tiny table of some excruciatingly chic Parisian bistro, lit only by a single flickering candle. National Guard troops arrived shortly before midnight and used tear gas, dogs and armored vehicles to subdue and disperse the mob.
A distraught young soldier sat on a street corner while a medic tended what appeared to be a nasty head wound. Choking with emotion, 2nd Lt. Hudson Bayou of the Florida Guard revealed that he was born and raised in Sarasota and was appalled at the scene, saying, "Do you know what it's like to have to turn a water cannon on a woman getting ready to throw a Molotov cocktail into your vehicle and realize it was your third-grade teacher?"
Damage estimates are expected to be in the tens of millions and plans are being finalized for a ballot referendum to propose a 1-mill "temporary" tax to pay for the repairs.
The Sarasota County School Board has issued a statement indicating that all county schools will be closed until a week from Monday, as all top administrators, the board and three hundred or so teachers are headed to the ultra-posh Mauna Lani Resort in Hawaii for some R & R. Said Carolyn Zucker, president of the school board, "Hey, it's not like we can't afford it, right? Besides, we got a good deal from the resort because an AIG management convention had to cancel because they were shamed into not going by adverse publicity. No such worries for us, though. If it wasn't for these dedicated professional educators before you today, you cretins wouldn't know how to spell 'adverse publicity.' Aloha, y'all!!"
The burned-out shell of Sarasota's City Hall stands as mute testament to the power of public education.