Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

University of South Florida uses tear gas on encampment for Gaza and arrest 10, protesters keep up the fight

By Chrisley Carpio

Group of protesters stand in a circle facing outward with their elbows interlocked. In the background several lines of police officer with riot shields are visible.

Tampa, FL – On Wednesday, April 30, University of South Florida students and community members embarked on their second day of setting up a solidarity encampment for Gaza at the Martin Luther King Plaza. Their demands are to disclose the university's investments in companies that fund and prop up Israel, divest from them, publicly condemn the genocide happening in Gaza and express support for Palestinian students, and stop all attacks on pro-Palestine student protesters.

Protesters held a rally at 2 p.m. to call for charges to be dropped on the three people arrested on Tuesday, day one of the encampment, which also served as a Nakba Remembrance Day event.

On day one, students had set up two tents before police attacked the protesters and forced students to retreat. At 4:30 p.m., the USF Police Department announced a 5 p.m. curfew in a move which a Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society statement called “arbitrary.” Police were already at the scene and surrounding the protesters. They then brutalized demonstrators, including pressing them face-down to the ground with a knee on their necks and on their backs.

Later that night, USF sent an email to members of Tampa Bay SDS that they would be considered trespassing if they carried forward with the protest. Despite these threats, students persevered and moved forward with the event.

On day 2, students began an encampment at MLK Plaza once again, starting in the morning. The crowd swelled at 2 p.m. for a rally to call for the charges on Simon Rowe and the others arrested to be dropped.

Students then linked arms and formed a human barricade around a cluster of students who began to build tents in solidarity with the people of Gaza. Within 30 minutes, the human chain grew from 30 students to over 80, fiercely chanting and shielding the tents from police.

Over 100 riot police poured in within a few hours, carrying shields and wearing gas masks. They were joined by over 50 cops from other agencies. Campus police, state troopers, federal agents, sheriff's office police, and more were all present.

Community members gathered around the student human chain and brought them umbrellas and homemade wooden shields in anticipation of rubber bullets and tear gas.

At 5 p.m., the university and police gave a final dispersal warning. Student organizers let the crowd know that they could leave if they wanted to, and if they wanted to stay, they had to be prepared for arrests. Despite knowing that the police would attack, students stayed in the human chain to defend six tents, while the other protesters stayed gathered around them in a show of support.

At 5 p.m., the riot cops attacked the protesters, shot rubber bullets into the crowd, sprayed the crowd with tear gas and set off flares. They ran over people with their bicycles. They ripped the yarmulke off a Jewish protester's head. Administrators' voices rang overhead as they announced that they would use “chemical munitions” and that the police would use “force that could result in injury” as tear gas covered the lawn.

The tear gas canisters fired off by police then set the MLK Plaza on fire.

Ten people in total were arrested, including a photographer journalist. One protester needed to be hospitalized.

According to SDS member Joseph Charry, “Police used illegal tactics like choking people, attacking people with disabilities, arresting people who were already dispersing, and they even set off fires, endangering students.”

Despite the police terror, students and members of the community were not deterred. Statements of support and money to help with bail flooded in. People stayed late into the night at Orient Road Jail to demand the release of all protesters.

Organizers called for protests and a continued effort to build a solidarity encampment for the very next day.

By the next afternoon, all ten protesters were released.

Saba Indawala of Tampa Bay SDS said, “The student intifada and the people out there who support Palestine demand the university quit being complicit in the genocide and divest from Israel. SDS demands that USF divest now and disclose all information about investiture to the student body. We’re demanding that USF release a statement in support of Palestinian and Arab students, and lastly, stop all attacks on the student movement, especially the one for Palestine. Students and the community have been so brave against the university and administration. We need to continue to be resilient and to fight for our demands.”

#TampaFL #TampaBaySDS #SDS #USF #FreePalestine