It took all of one week for skateboarders to mark the new student memorial honoring deceased students, and student body president Jean Cocco had harsh words in response.
In a Facebook post Monday afternoon, Cocco said the skateboarders who left black streaks on the memorial bench were “terrible, vile human beings” who will be “arrested and thrown in jail,” if caught.
Cocco further said he would “make sure your face is known to the families and friends who lost their loved ones.”
Nevertheless, he said they should have “a beautiful day.”
The post was deleted less than two hours after dozens of students replied with comments critical of Cocco’s remarks.
In an interview with The Oracle, skateboarding club members also voiced concerns. The club’s founder Chad Riese said it is ridiculous to give a person an arrest record for grinding on a bench.
“(Cocco) is obviously proud and deserves to be upset, but he’s a student, too,” Riese said. “When he should represent all students, he instead spoke out like a cranky professor.”
Though Riese said skateboarders aren’t always the most considerate of citizens, he knew of no one in his club that would vandalize the memorial.
“When skateboarders saw the memorial go up, I don’t think they thought they should crash this graveyard,” he said. “At the same time, I can see why it is a good place to practice tricks between classes.”
Freshman Shaquille Khan said the skater community wouldn’t have been offended if Cocco had respectfully asked skaters to not use the memorial as a trick spot.
“It’s a very uncommon thing to call anyone a vile human being,” Khan said. “It’s very harsh and very subjective.”
In an interview with The Oracle, Cocco said he made the post less than an hour after finding out about the damage.
“It was a knee-jerk reaction,” he said. “I vented as any angry person would do. It wasn’t to call out the entire skateboarding community, it was to single out the few skateboarders who skateboard in that location.”
Though he stands by the sentiment, Cocco said he should act more professionally and that he regrets using the words “vile” and “terrible.”
However, the reason Cocco said he deleted the post was because of the comments of other Facebook users.
“The comments were becoming too overwhelming and negative toward why the memorial was built,” Cocco said. “I don’t want family members to see the disrespectful posts.”
Some comments questioned why it mattered if people skated on public property, whether the bench is meaningful to the memorial and why no one foresaw skateboarders using it.
“Family members lost their loved ones and they kept commenting how beautiful the place was for their children to be remembered,” Cocco said. “They loved how it wasn’t like the old location that was run down.”
When Student Government (SG) proposed spending $349,800 on the new memorial last spring, proponents often pointed to the damage skateboarders caused to the old memorial as a reason it should be moved.
Though he regrets the wording of the post, Cocco said he still believes University Police (UP) should arrest anyone who vandalizes the memorial.
“I think the police should arrest you and prosecute you to fullest extent of the law,” he said. “That I still stand by.”
UP Assistant Chief Chris Daniel said putting a student in jail for skating on the memorial would be unlikely.
“Those are (Cocco’s) words,” he said. “I’m not going to take the officer’s discretion away.”
UP policy dictates that a student living near Hillsborough County who commits a misdemeanor would be issued an summons.
“We have the option of not putting them in jail because we know where to find them if we need them,” Daniel said. “If they were to fail to show up for the charges, a warrant is put out.”
Daniel said UP is aware of the damage and has increased presence at the site.
“We hope the eyes and ears of the community will help in letting us know so we can respond appropriately,” he said. “We can’t be there all the time.”
Cocco said SG is requesting SAFE Team and campus security to patrol the area frequently.
For further prevention, Cocco said SG is considering posting a sign warning against skateboarding near the memorial.
“We rather not put up a sign near the student memorial because of the pristine-ness of the area,” he said.
Physical Plant is also being rushed to install anti-grinding metal fitting on the bench. Cocco said Physical Plant had been too busy with other projects to do so before the memorial was completed.
“I said let’s give it a week to see if anything happens,” he said. “By golly, it wasn’t even a week.”
Cocco said the repairs could cost the university a substantial amount of money.
Riese said the problem would not be an issue if the university accommodated skateboarding like it does any other sport.
“The culture of skateboarding is only growing and there’s going to be more skaters on campus,” he said. “It’s really sad that even on a diverse campus like USF where there’s fencing, lacrosse or fishing that you’re still treated like a vandal.”
Cocco said he doesn’t mind skateboarders skating on campus, but they should be more mindful of where they skate.
“Do I regret my words and should have been a bit nicer? Yes, but the sentiment is there,” he said. “We need to have the common sense, and the common courtesy, not to commit such acts that hurt loved ones who lost their sons and daughters.”