May 23, 2024

TAMPA, Fla. (WFLA) — Pro-Palestine protesters held a news conference Wednesday to decry the use of tear gas against students on Tuesday on the University of South Florida campus.

“Shame on all of admin at USF for putting their students in danger,” one of the organizers said.

The group gathered at 56th Street and East Fowler Avenue on Wednesday evening.

When asked if the protesters had any intention to disrupt graduation ceremonies, organizers said “no comment.”

One student, Victoria Hinckley, said she was supposed to graduate on Saturday, but that has now been threatened because she was suspended and trespassed from the university for organizing a protest.

“They are trying to withhold my graduation from me for asserting my right to free speech on campus, for asserting my right to organize, and asserting our right to free speech and to protest on our own campus as college students, who pay tuition to be there — who pay tuition to fund university administrators’ salaries who are trying to suppress our free speech.”

Ten people were arrested on Tuesday after police used tear gas to disperse the protest on campus. Four of those people arrested were students.

The university said the protest was declared an “unlawful assembly” because the students set up a tent and had wood shields and umbrellas.

“The University of South Florida values the right to free speech and protecting the constitutional right for individuals and groups on campus to express themselves,” a USF spokesperson said in a statement to News Channel 8 on Tuesday. “This includes peaceful protests and demonstrations that occur regularly on USF’s three campuses without incident and are part of the public discourse of a university. However, the expression of free speech must remain peaceful and not violate the law or USF policies. The university has been clear the violence, threats, harassment and disruptions will not be tolerated.”

The university said about 75 to 100 protesters — some students and some non-students — showed up with wood shields, umbrellas and tents. Staff members reportedly told the protesters what their expectations were for maintaining a peaceful event.

Video from Eagle 8 HD showed a group standing together in a circle with arms locked.

“If you’re out here peacefully protesting, why should you need shields and umbrellas?” USF Police Chief Christopher Daniel said.

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