Tampa students arrested for protesting on campus
Tampa, FL – On February 9 students and community organizations gathered on the University of South Florida (USF) campus to protest recent acts by the university and the government to limit the free speech of progressive voices. Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) attended to demand that the university lift their suspension and drop their charges. USF placed a suspension on Tampa Bay SDS for protesting against the university’s budget cuts.
“Administration has been constantly getting in the way of protest and then suspended SDS until the fall semester on hypocritical charges,” says Laura Rodriguez, a member of Tampa Bay SDS, “I think it is so incredibly irresponsible for USF administration to try and disband an organization that has had such a vital role in the Tampa Bay area.”
Of the many speeches prepared for the event only one was given before USF administration told the police to arrest the protesters for trespassing. Five people, most of whom are students, were detained and held in police vehicles for over half an hour. Many of the police officers were not wearing masks when in the cars with the detained protesters.
“This was about intimidation and suppression,” Simon Rowe, a member of Tampa Bay SDS who was arrested, says of the actions. “The police walked me past the same place on campus where they escorted Kaitlyn Bennett's security away from her event in October. Bennett's team was given water, I and four other people were put in handcuffs.” Rowe was referencing last semester in which notorious right-wing internet personality Kaitlin Bennett filmed a video on campus at USF. Despite drawing a large crowd, she was allowed to leave of her own accord.
“USF and the police demonstrated another act against the voices of students,” stated Laith Hader of the USF chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). “I was there to give a speech about USF's record of suppressing voices of pro-Palestine activists. Many of those who speak out against the Israeli system of apartheid and genocide are being doxed, fired from their jobs, investigated or interrogated by the state, and are falsely framed as anti-Semitic, all while neo-Nazis and white supremacists are given their ‘free speech’ without any repercussions from the state or its institutions.”
Members from Tampa Bay Community Action Committee (TBCAC), Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), and Tampa People’s Protest were also in attendance to stand in solidarity with progressive students and raise awareness about HB1/SB484, a bill proposed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to severely limit the right to protest in the state. Members of TBCAC and PSL were among those arrested.
Many of the groups in attendance will join a statewide mobilization to Tallahassee, Florida’s state capital, on March 2 to protest against the bill.
Tampa Bay SDS stated they would continue fighting the charges against the protesters, the charges and suspension against their organization, and will continue fighting USF’s budget cuts.
“SDS has always brought issues to the table which USF admin have tried to keep hidden under the rug,” said Rodriguez.