Florida statewide protest demands justice for Tampa 5, drop the charges
Tampa, FL – On Monday, April 17, around 70 students, parents, community members and progressives rallied for a statewide mobilization at the University of South Florida’s Marshall Student Center to demand that University President Rhea Law, drop the charges – criminal and academic – on the five protesters brutalized and charged by campus police, March 6, for protesting Governor DeSantis’ racist attacks on education.
They also demanded that she speak out against Ron DeSantis' House Bill 999, the bill which the protesters had been denouncing, that would cut any diversity programs, ethnic studies, multicultural groups, and Women's and Gender Studies from higher education. It would also allow administrations to review and revoke professors' tenure.
In protesters’ hands were signs that read, “Fund education, not discrimination,” “Say no to HB 999,” “Black history matters,” “Fire Chris Daniel,” “Drop the charges” and more.
Thus far, Law has refused to meet with Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society to discuss the bill, even when contacted by the USF Student Government President Nithin Palyam, on Tampa Bay SDS' behalf. Law is only one of the many university presidents who has failed to respond to calls from Students for a Democratic Society chapters to denounce HB 999 and protect higher education.
“Administrators ignoring students is not unique to USF. We see the same thing at FSU,” Alex Carson from the SDS chapter at the Florida State University said, of their recent confrontation with their own university president. “At FSU we formally requested a meeting with the president and got no response. When we occupied his office and later confronted him at a campus social event, we were disrespected and ignored once again. Across the state, university presidents are attempting to silence the demands of their students. We want the admin to defy HB999 and institute real protections for ethnic studies and multicultural groups. “
To date, no Florida university or college president has spoken out against HB 999. One diversity office has already been closed at the New College of Florida, after DeSantis removed and replaced their board of trustees.
At the forefront of the April 17 protesters' demands was the call for the university and the state attorney of the Florida 13th Judicial Court to drop the charges on the now five protesters, for the university president to resign, and for the police chief, Chris Daniel, to be fired, as he began the police brutality by grabbing a student mid-speech as seen in abundant video footage.
On March 6, minutes after marching into the Patel Center, the administration building on campus, protesters were attacked by campus police. At the end of the day, four protesters were jailed and charged with misdemeanors and a felony each. One more student was added to defendants a month later despite not being arrested the day of, via a direct file submitted to the state attorney.
On top of the criminal charges, the university administration has been attempting to discipline the three students and one campus worker in other ways. The students, Gia Davila, Lauren Pineiro and Jeanie Kida, face code of conduct hearings with potential discipline as far-reaching as expulsion. The university has already held a pre-termination hearing for the campus worker, Chrisley Carpio, who has been put on administrative leave.
“Seeing this happen on our campus makes it all very real and disheartening,” said Yuki Shao from Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society. “The way they had three officers pinning down one girl and threw our friends against the ground, the way they were kicking in their heads without even being able to name the charges they were going to be arrested for, was astounding.”
One of the Tampa 5, Lauren Pineiro, was charged a month after the protest despite not being arrested the day of. “They know that DeSantis’ agenda is unpopular and that the people of Florida, the students of Florida, stand against these attacks and that we outnumber them,” Pineiro said. “They intended to make an example out of us on March 6, hoping that the student movement could be silenced. But look around us right now! The student movement isn’t going anywhere and we won’t be silenced!”
After a round of speakers from Tallahassee, Orlando, Jacksonville and Tampa, the protesters marched into the student center. Their voices and chants filled the building, ringing from wall to wall.