Campus Tensions Increase Amid Protests


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Posted May 1, 2024 | By Ryan Dailey
Florida News Service

TALLAHASSEE — Arrests of protesters on Florida university campuses increased this week, after tensions ratcheted up at the University of Florida and the University of South Florida during demonstrations about the war between Israel and Hamas.

The arrests Monday of a dozen people at the two Florida universities came as pro-Palestinian campus protests draw attention across the country, with clashes between demonstrators and university administrations — and law enforcement — intensifying.

The University of Florida confirmed that nine protesters were arrested Monday, though a department spokesman as of Tuesday morning did not know how many of the arrested people were students. The school Monday night issued a strongly worded statement following the arrests.

“This is not complicated: The University of Florida is not a daycare, and we do not treat protesters like children — they knew the rules, they broke the rules, and they’ll face the consequences,” university spokesman Steve Orlando said in the statement.

The statement said “many” protesters on the campus were “outside agitators” and that university police had reiterated rules to demonstrators.

The university said protesters who engage in “clearly prohibited activities” would receive trespassing orders from police that would bar them from university property for three years and “interim” suspensions from UF.

A memo distributed last week and widely shared on social media listed activities allowed during protests and actions that are prohibited. “Speech,” “expressing viewpoints” and “holding signs in hands” were listed as allowable activities.

Prohibited actions included using amplified sound, demonstrating inside buildings, camping, building structures, creating disruptions, making threats and committing violence.

During a press event Tuesday morning in Naples, Gov. Ron DeSantis touted Florida universities’ responses to the protests.

“The University of Florida, Florida State, our universities have been very strong in saying, ‘You can say what you want, but you don’t have the right to commandeer territory, you don’t have the right to harass students or faculty or any of that. And if you do violate (the) code of conduct, we’re going to show you the door. You will be expelled,’” DeSantis said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida in a statement last week about pro-Palestinian protests on campuses condemned a DeSantis call for expulsions of student protesters.

“Gov. DeSantis’ response – that students should be expelled for peacefully protesting – is contrary to our First Amendment principles of free speech and expression. There is nothing more American than protest. No student should face expulsion from their university or this country for exercising their rights,” Howard Simon, the ACLU of Florida’s executive director, said.

Meanwhile, the University of South Florida reported three arrests after a protest Monday held by an organization that the school said had previously been suspended. One student, one USF employee and one person not affiliated with the university were arrested.

USF officials said in a statement that the arrests came after tents were set up on campus without university approval. The group Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society held a protest starting at noon Monday outside of the library on USF’s main Tampa campus, though the group had been placed on “interim suspension last week after causing a disruption on campus.”

“Suspended student organizations are not permitted to host events and activities, which the group was made aware of several times prior to today’s protest, including another reminder this (Monday) morning,” the USF statement said.

The school said that protesters “resisted” actions by university staff to take down tents.

“Before removing tents, university staff again tried to advise protestors that they could not use tents. Participants refused to comply with directions from staff members,” the USF statement said.

The Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations issued a statement Tuesday criticizing the campus arrests.

“Arresting a particular group of students for their stance in a peaceful protest is blatant authoritarian censorship and targeting. USF officials have failed in their duty to protect our children and uphold freedom of expression and the First Amendment,” Imam Abdullah Jaber, executive director of the Florida chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said.

Both schools have regulations about rules that demonstrators must follow.

“Demonstrations may be held anywhere on the campus, so long as they do not disrupt the normal operation of the university or infringe on the rights of other members of the university community, except that no demonstrations are permitted inside university buildings,” a UF regulation said.

Also, demonstrations are not allowed to interfere with vehicular or pedestrian traffic, block entrances or exits to buildings, interfere with “educational activities inside or outside any building,” damage property or “harass passersby or otherwise disrupt” normal activities.

A page on the USF website said the school can manage the “time, place and manner” of demonstrations on campus.

“As a limited public forum, the university can manage time, place, and manner, which most often occurs when there is a significant disruption including, but not limited to, disrupting classes, operations, and/or scheduled events,” the website said.

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