Four recent University of South Florida graduates and a former school staff member – now known as the Tampa 5 – claim campus police initiated a violent clash earlier this year between officers and students protesting Fla. Gov. Ron DeSantis. Yet despite video footage they say proves their innocence, members of the group are facing a decade in prison for what police say was battery on a law enforcement officer.
– We want a meeting now.
– We want a meeting now.
– We want meeting now.
– Don’t touch her. Don’t touch her.
GIA DAVILA: I know that if we kind of just roll over and take things quietly, take things lying down, that this is just going to happen to more people.
– Those protesters were demanding a meeting with USF’s president about the school’s diversity. Instead, they ended up with a scuffle with campus police.
– These demonstrators at USF are now calling for the resignation of the school’s president and police chief following these arrests.
GIA DAVILA: Tampa Bay SDS originally had a campaign to increase Black enrollment at the University of South Florida. I believe, at the time, the Black enrollment had dropped to around 8%. And the Black community in Tampa makes up like around 25% of the population here.
When we saw HB 999 start to come up, the bill that said basically outlaws diversity programs, DEI initiatives, multicultural studies, multicultural groups, there’s some really ridiculous rhetoric within these bills. And so we were like, there’s no way we’re just going to sit quietly and watch this pass at our school. This will literally like redefine our school as it is and how it functions.
LAURA RODRIGUEZ: In US history– I’m Puerto Rican– and Puerto Rican history, when people are not allowed to learn their own history the way it actually happened for it to be rewritten, to say that slavery was OK, and that it taught people things is disingenuous, disgusting.
We recognize that Ron DeSantis, anytime there’s a movement where it brings people forward, he’s right there to like slash it at the roots. Whether your family has immigrants, or if you’re a worker, or if you’re a minority in the state of Florida, you’re being attacked at every front.
GIA DAVILA: So we decided to hold a protest and then march to the president’s office to try to get a meeting with her. And pretty much immediately after we entered the building, it was literally just like 25 students holding signs in the lobby of a building. And we were met with 15 police officers who basically like cornered us in the room and started attacking students. It was pretty terrifying.
MARQUISE FRANCIS: I believe the school law enforcement put out a statement saying that they asked you all to leave nicely. You know, would you say that’s true?
GIA DAVILA: No. I mean, you know, it’s really frustrating, because they came out like pretty immediately after this whole situation went down, the University president compared us to an active shooter situation and said that it like rolled out an active shooter protocol. And they came out with an investigation that said, oh, the police did everything correct as they were trained to do when students were put into chokeholds. I was groped by the chief of police while being arrested. And they make these claims that they asked people to leave nicely and all these things. Like, so it’s just like, so far from the truth.
MARQUISE FRANCIS: The fact that this could possibly set a precedent for what student protesting looks like and what the quelling or the silencing of student protesting can look like. And so what is that look like for you, and how do you feel about, you know, this possibly setting the precedent moving forward?
LAURA RODRIGUEZ: We just have to keep fighting, because this is against DeSantis, against the police repression here in the state of Florida and nationally.
GIA DAVILA: Like, especially after experiencing all of these really horrible things, like, we want to make sure that this doesn’t happen to more students. So yeah, I think it’s really important that we speak loudly about what happened to us.