Tampa, FL – On Thursday, March 9, students, and community members gathered for a press conference to demand justice for the four protesters who were brutalized and arrested at the University of South Florida (USF) on Monday, March 6. The press conference was hosted by Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) and consisted of statements of solidarity from numerous organizations at USF and across the Tampa Bay community.
On March 6, Tampa Bay SDS hosted a march to demand a meeting with USF President Rhea Law to demand that she protect Diversity, Equity, and Inclusivity (DEI) programs at USF. The protesters marched into the Patel Center, where Law’s office is located, where they were met with repression and violence from USF police.
SDS member Eithne Silva opened the press conference by stating, “We are here on the side of the road because we can’t even go onto our campus anymore because our university repressed us, brutalized us, threw our members on the ground, arrested us, and gave us felonies just because we’re standing up to attacks on diversity, and to DeSantis’s attacks on higher education.”
There were statements of solidarity from student groups at USF, a student government senator, local community organizations, and national organizations such as the National Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression, the American Indian Movement, and Anakbayan.
The protesters who were arrested are facing misdemeanor charges for resisting arrest without violence and disrupting a campus and academic function, and a felony charge for battery of a law enforcement officer. At the press conference the students demanded that the charges be dropped, the academic rights of suspended students be restored, and that USF Police Chief Chris Daniel resign.
One of the four arrested, Gia Davila, stated, “We are here to say that we did nothing wrong. We were brutalized by the police for exercising our right to protest and to say no to Ron DeSantis’ racist attacks on education.”
The brutality that the protesters faced on March 6 is an extension of the attacks on higher education that have been implemented by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Early this year he cut the diversity office at the New College of Florida, and through recent legislation such as HB 999 DeSantis has urged cuts to “critical race studies,” African American studies, and gender studies at public schools and state universities in Florida.
Lauren Pineiro, a member of SDS who was at the March 6 protest, stated, “This is a fight for DEI, this is a fight for diversity, this is a fight for Black students, for trans students.”
National Students for a Democratic Society has a campaign to defend diversity programs and affirmative action. SDS chapters in Florida have been at the forefront of the fight organizing against DeSantis’s attacks on higher education.
Pineiro ended their statement by saying, “They want to silence us, but we’re going to continue to fight for diversity, we’re going to fight against HB 999, and we’re not going to stop, we’re going to go further until we get these charges dropped.”