They were arrested after a demonstration against DeSantis. Now, the ‘Tampa 5’ say the protests are tested. | spcilvly


Months after a violent confrontation between a handful of University of South Florida (USF) students and USF police following a campus demonstration against Governor Ron DeSantis’ attacks on diversity, equity and inclusion programs (DEI) at public universities across the state, four recent graduates and one former university employee are fighting for their freedom.

Those five protesters – Chrisley Carpio, 31, Laura Rodríguez, 23, Lauren Piñeiro, 23, Jeanie Kida, 26, and Gia Dávila, 22, known together as the “Tampa Five” – said the future of the student protests is in danger, as each faces between six and 11 years in prison if convicted of felony assault on a law enforcement officer, something they say never happened.

If the charges persist, many critics said it could set a precedent for stifling dissent.

“I’m very sure that none of us did anything wrong,” Dávila, who graduated in May, told Yahoo News. “And I still feel overwhelming anxiety about going to trial. … Knowing that the justice system is flawed in many ways, just because we are innocent does not necessarily mean that things will go in our favor.”

Students join a statewide student walkout to protest Governor Ron DeSantis' education policies at the University of South Florida in Tampa in February.

Students join a statewide student walkout to protest Governor Ron DeSantis’ education policies at the University of South Florida in Tampa in February. (Ivy Ceballo/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire) (ZUMAPRESS.com)

Rodriguez, who graduated last May but joined the protest in solidarity, said that despite the physical trauma of the past six months, the Tampa Five are advocating for something bigger than themselves.

“We realize that this is a problem bigger than our daily lives,” Rodríguez said.

DeSantis’ office did not respond to Yahoo News’ request for comment.

What happened at the protest?

On March 6, members of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (TBSDS), a progressive student organization, held a rally at the school to demand that the administration increase black enrollment at the school. Black students represent approximately 9% of the total student population of approximately 50,000. In a city of nearly 400,000 residents where nearly 1 in 4 Tampa residents is Black, TBSDS members saw the stark disparity along with plans to gut DEI programming at the public university as aggravating blows that would severely hamper diversity efforts. and student culture at school.

In May, DeSantis signed legislation prohibiting universities from spending public funds on DEI programs. In the previous months, she signed into law the Stop WOKE Act, which restricts how workplaces and schools can discuss race. However, a federal judge prohibited its execution and the appeals court upheld the court order.

“There was no way we were going to sit quietly and watch this happen at our school,” Dávila said. “This will literally redefine our school as it is and how it operates.”

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE bill into law in 2022.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed the Stop WOKE bill into law in 2022. (Daniel A. Varela/Miami Herald via ZUMA Press Wire) (ZUMAPRESS.com)

TBSDS held the initial rally attended by about two dozen students that afternoon at the school’s Marshall Student Center, and then marched to the Patel Center for Global Solutions, which houses the president’s office, to try to get a meeting with her.

But when the president did not appear, a smaller number of students remained to occupy the center’s lobby and chant loudly. Campus police said they approached the group and told them they were trespassing and had to leave, but the students refused. Some time later, in a video posted to the TBSDS Instagram, USF Police Chief Christopher Daniel can be seen grabbing one of the protesters, Dávila, by the arm, as others try to separate them.

Daniel then appears to throw Davila into the group as the video becomes too difficult to see clearly. According to the Tampa Bay Times, the situation escalated into more violence as protesters and law enforcement shoved each other for about 30 minutes.

Conflicting claims

Officers said they were hit with objects, including a camera and a water bottle, and that one officer suffered minor injuries after being pushed by the group. In a statement to Tampa Bay 10, USF police also said protesters began a physical altercation.

But TBSDS members said the officers were the aggressors.

“There were like 25 students holding 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,” said Dávila, who alleges that an officer groped her after she was hit. . the land. “It was pretty scary.”

At the end of the standoff, three students and one university staff member were arrested and charged with assault or battery on law enforcement; resisting an officer without violence toward his person and a penalty for disrupting an educational institution.

Davila, who was arrested inside, was also charged with criminal trespass. In May, a fourth student turned herself in after the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department issued a warrant and now faces similar charges as the rest of the group.

Members of the Tampa Five also said three of the five had their potential sentences doubled from a minimum of three years to six years in prison after they refused to write an apology to officers, whom they told they did not They had done damage.

USF police and the school’s local police department, the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Department, declined to comment.

The state attorney’s office said it does not comment on pending cases, but a spokesperson added: “Our office makes charging decisions on a case-by-case basis after thoroughly reviewing the investigation received from authorities.”

‘He’s lucky he didn’t kill her’

The five protesters, represented by criminal defense attorney Michelle Lambo, pleaded not guilty. Ahead of the pretrial hearing and jury selection scheduled for December, Lambo told Yahoo News that she is confident her clients will prevail over the officers, whom she called “mad dogs.”

“The video evidence exonerates them 100%,” Lambo said. “The problem is that law enforcement has not been able to realize that peace does not mean tranquility. They are loud because there is singing and people with very loud voices who know how to project their voices. So it is not peaceful, but non-violent, which is what peaceful also means.”

Sophie Craig, 19, applauds during the student walkout at the University of South Florida in February.

Sophie Craig, 19, applauds during the student walkout at the University of South Florida in February. (Ivy Ceballo/TNS via ZUMA Press Wire) (ZUMAPRESS.com)

Lambo called the boss’s behavior “disgusting” and added: “He pushed the students and yelled at them to get out of here. It’s really disturbing. … (Dávila) was lifted by her shoulders and the officer threw her to the ground, face-first. She is lucky I didn’t kill her.”

More than freedom, students are pushing to have their voices heard and return to normal life, Lambo said.

“Their freedoms are at stake,” he said. “None of them had an arrest record prior to this incident. And now they have arrest records, which has affected their ability to find employment and housing because they are accused of assault on a law enforcement officer.”

As they await trial, members of the Tampa Five have been anything but inactive, launching a speaking tour and corresponding GoFundMe to raise awareness about their circumstances and, ultimately, what their case could mean for the rest of the country. .

“The speaking tour is intended to raise national awareness about what DeSantis is doing in Florida and how he can really take it to the national level,” Rodriguez said. “This is a fight against DeSantis. “This is a fight for diversity programs.”

Thumbnail credit: Jefferee Woo/Tampa Bay Times via ZUMA Press Wire




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