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Protesters gather across from USF to speak out against this week's arrests

Protesters gathered across the street from the USF Tampa campus to speak out against this week’s arrests of four people who wanted to meet with President Rhea Law to discuss proposed state education laws.

UPDATED SUNDAY, 3/12: Over the weekend, Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society posted a response on Instagram to University of South Florida President Rhea Law's statement.

In their post, the SDS took exception to Law releasing her statement to the media Thursday — including WUSF — instead of speaking directly to the USF community.

As a result, the SDS issued a list of demands that mirrored one spoken about at Thursday's protest — with at least one notable addition, addressing Law directly.

  1. All the charges on the four protestors arrested must be dropped
  2. USFPD Police Chief Chris Daniel must be fired
  3. USF President Rhea Law must resign
  4. USF Administration must condemn HB 999 and all attacks on DEI
  5. USF must reinstate its search for a Vice President of DEI

ORIGINAL STORY: Around 25 people gathered across the street from the University of South Florida Tampa campus on Thursday. They were protesting this week’s arrests of four people who wanted to meet with President Rhea Law to discuss proposed state education laws.

Their arrests drew national attention. Video from members of Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society shows scuffles broke out between university police and the group Monday.

RELATED: Protestors accuse USF police of abuse as four are arrested

Chrisley Carpio, 31; Gia Davila, 21; Jeanie Kida, 26; and Laura Rodriguez, 23, were each charged with battery on a law enforcement officer; resisting an officer without violence; and disrupting a school campus or function. Kida was also charged with trespassing in an occupied structure.

People stand outside with signs during a protest on a sunny day.
Meghan Bowman
/
WUSF Public Media
Protesters gather across the street from USF at a protest on March 9, 2023, to speak out against the four people arrested by University Police earlier in the week. Three of them - Laura Rodriguez (left), Gia Davila (center back), and Chrisley Carpio (right) - wipe away tears during speeches.

A statement from university police said the four were part of group that refused instructions to leave the lobby of the Patel Center for Global Sustainability, where Law's office is. At some point, the dispute became physical, with officers attempting to arrest multiple protestors.

On Thursday, Lauren Pineiro with the SDS talked about what she experienced on Monday.

"When we got there, we are immediately met with force from police officers. I did not expect a peaceful sit-in to result in a police officer slamming her fist into my head over and over again. I did not expect to be pulled away from police with my arms ending with scratches and bruises. I didn't expect there to be blood on my tote bag," she told the crowd through tears.

"I didn't expect to see my friends on the floor. I didn't expect to be begging for my life, to try to de-escalate, to leave the premises. I said over and over 'we're leaving, we're leaving, we're leaving' and even when we went outside and we complied, they only continued to brutalize us."

Speakers also read letters of support for the group, who are calling themselves the “Tampa 4.”

Undocumented United, the Florida Indigenous Alliance, Florida Rising, Trans + Student Union, Boston's Emerson College Student Union, and People's Progressive Action were just some of the groups backing the protesters.

Protesters stood with signs reading “Justice 4 Tampa 4 — Drop Charges Now,” “Protect Diversity,” and “Increase Black Enrollment Now.”

Davila, a USF senior, said she and Kida have been suspended from school. Carpio, who works at Student Services at USF, said she was placed on administrative leave following the incident. The three, along with Rodriguez, an alumna of the school, said they are not allowed on campus — which is why the protest was held across the street, on a grassy strip facing the main entrance on Fowler Avenue.

“We are here today to say that we did nothing wrong. We were brutalized by the police," Davila told the crowd. "For exercising our freedom of speech and right to protest and to say no to Ron DeSantis’ racist attacks against education.”

"I'd say this is like the scariest thing that most of us have ever experienced or been through," Davila said after the protest. "Protesters had to watch their lives flash before their eyes as the cops brutalized them."

"We demand that the charges be dropped, that the academic suspension be ended, that USF and Rhea Law condemn House Bill 999 and refuse to comply with Ron DeSantis' attacks on diversity, critical race theory and just higher education in general," Carpio said.

"Just seeing how they were, like, beat up on — yeah, I'd never seen anything that extreme, and then experienced it, too," she added.

People stand outside with signs during a protest on a sunny day.
Meghan Bowman
/
WUSF Public Media
Protesters gather across the street from USF at a protest on March 9, 2023, to speak out against the four people arrested by University Police earlier in the week. Student and SDS member Enya Silva speaks to the crowd.

USF student and SDS member Enya Silva said the group wants to see Law make a statement condemning University Police and for Chief Chris Daniel, who took part in the arrests, to lose his job.

"The university is the one who said 'You're trespassing on your own campus.' It's the university police who did all these actions," Silva said. "So obviously (President Law) does have a lot of power as the leader of the university. She is happy to go out there and make statements about building a football stadium, but she won't make any statement or show any support to students who are being brutalized."

President Law provided a statement to WUSF after the protest Thursday:

"USF strongly supports the right to free speech.  Just this week on our campuses there have been several protests and demonstrations that occurred peacefully and without incident, as is common at a public university. However, what took place on Monday afternoon at the Patel Center is not something anyone wants to see on our campuses.

"Using their training and university protocol, USF staff and police officers asked a protest group numerous times to move outside of the building, as they were disrupting normal business activities. When the group did not comply, police officers issued several additional warnings in an attempt to deescalate the situation. When the group again failed to comply, law enforcement tried to lead them out of the building.

"The group actively resisted, with some members putting their hands on police, as officers took action to remove them from the building. I believe it’s appropriate to further look into the matter, and we will review the actions of all involved."

USF spokesperson Althea Johnson said the school cannot confirm any conduct charges or sanctions against Davila and Kida due to student privacy laws. They are also awaiting more information specific to Carpio.

Updated: March 12, 2023 at 8:45 PM EDT
Updated on 3/12 with Tampa Bay SDS post
Nothing about my life has been typical. Before I fell in love with radio journalism, I enjoyed a long career in the arts in musical theatre.