Four recent University of South Florida graduates and a former school staff member, now known as the Tampa 5, claim that campus police began a violent confrontation earlier this year between officers and students protesting against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. However, despite video footage they say proves their innocence, members of the group face a decade in prison for what police say was an assault on a law enforcement officer.
– We want a meeting now.
– We want a meeting now.
– We want to meet now.
– Do not touch her. Do not touch her.
GIA DAVILA: I know that if we just roll over and take things slow, this will happen to more people.
– Those protesters were demanding a meeting with the president of USF about the school’s diversity. Instead, they ended up in a fight with campus police.
– These protesters at USF are now calling for the school president and police chief to resign following these arrests.
GIA DAVILA: Tampa Bay SDS originally had a campaign to increase black enrollment at the University of South Florida. I think, at that time, black enrollment had fallen to about 8%. And the black community in Tampa makes up about 25% of the population here.
When we saw HB 999 starting to emerge, the bill that basically banned diversity programs, DEI initiatives, multicultural studies, and multicultural groups, there was some really ridiculous rhetoric within these bills. And then we thought, there’s no way we’re going to sit quietly and watch this happen in our school. This will literally redefine our school as it is and how it operates.
LAURA RODRIGUEZ: In American history (I’m Puerto Rican) and in Puerto Rican history, when people are not allowed to learn their own history as it happened to rewrite it, to say that slavery was okay and that it taught people things are false, disgusting.
We recognize that Ron DeSantis, whenever there is a movement that moves people forward, he is there to nip it in the bud. Whether his family is an immigrant, a worker, or a minority in the state of Florida, he is being attacked on all fronts.
GIA DAVILA: So we decided to have a protest and then march to the president’s office to try to get a meeting with her. And almost immediately after we walked into the building, it was literally like 25 students with signs in the lobby of a building. And we encountered 15 police officers who basically cornered us in the room and started attacking the students. It was quite scary.
MARQUISE FRANCIS: I think the school police issued a statement saying they asked everyone to politely leave. You know, would you say that’s true?
GIA DAVILA: No. I mean, you know, it’s really frustrating, because they came to light right after this whole situation happened, the president of the University compared us to an active shooter situation and said that an active shooter protocol was in place. . And they came out with an investigation that said, oh, the police did everything correctly, just like they were trained to do when the students were strangled. The police chief groped me while I was being arrested. And they make these claims that they asked people to leave politely and all that stuff. So it is very far from the truth.
MARQUISE FRANCIS: The fact that this could set a precedent for what student protests are like and what the repression or silencing of student protests can be like. So what’s that like for you and how do you feel about this potentially setting a precedent in the future?
LAURA RODRIGUEZ: We just have to keep fighting, because this is against DeSantis, against police repression here in the state of Florida and nationally.
GIA DAVILA: Especially after experiencing all of these really horrible things, we want to make sure this doesn’t happen to more students. So yes, I think it’s very important that we talk out loud about what happened to us.