TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Social activist Joe Manson has spent the past six months protesting alleged brothels on Kennedy Boulevard through the Clean Up Kennedy organization he created. But he spent Christmas Eve trying to figure out who decided to maliciously slashed the tires on his car and his parents’ two vehicles that were parked in the family’s driveway.
“It’s never happened before and it hasn’t happened to my neighbors either,” Manson said. “We’re not going to be intimidated and it was just a little hiccup in our Christmas plans. We took an Uber and got to church on time.”
Tampa police are now investigating the vandalism as a criminal mischief complaint. It happened around 2:15 Sunday morning at Manson’s Tampa home – just a few miles away from the Asian massage spas that he’s been demonstrating against since an 8 On Your Side investigation exposed a pattern of prostitution and possible human trafficking.
Last Thursday, just three days before the tire slashing, Manson and his parents both showed up for a public hearing at Tampa City Hall to support a new bathhouse ordinance aimed at shutting down the sex trade inside Asian massage spas on Kennedy Boulevard and elsewhere in the City of Tampa.
A group of self-proclaimed female sex workers who call themselves the Sex Worker Solidarity Network were at the same meeting protesting the ordinance and Manson’s campaign. City council approved the ordinance unanimously Thursday, but the measure will still require another vote and a second public hearing in January.
Infrared surveillance video at Manson’s house shows what appears to be an adult female wearing a shawl hiding in nearby bushes in the Sunday morning darkness and talking into a cell phone before approaching the house and struggling to sink a knife or other sharp instrument into the family’s vehicles. The vandal then ran off down the street in the predawn darkness.
No one has claimed responsibility, but Manson suspects the culprit is someone who opposes his effort to shut down the illegal sex trade on Kennedy Boulevard through regular sidewalk demonstrations and the proposed city ordinance.
Sydney Eastman, a leader of the Sex Worker Solidarity Network, tells 8 On Your Side she didn’t know about the vandalism until we called her Tuesday.
“That’s terrible,” Eastman said. “I’m sorry for his family.”
She doesn’t think anyone in her group is involved. Eastman says a similar act of vandalism has been committed against her in the past, presumably because of her political views.
Joe Manson believes the vandalism against his family is politically motivated, given that both he and his parents were at the bathhouse public hearing Thursday. Whatever the case, he’s leaving his surveillance video and the investigation in the hands of Tampa police and hoping they will unmask whoever did it.
“I would say it’s a very cowardly act,” Manson said. “If anything, this is going to steel my resolve, not discourage me from doing anything.”