Over the weekend, students protested in areas surrounding USF’s Tampa campus against police brutality in response to Jacob Blake’s hospitalization after being shot seven times in the back by members of the Kenosha, Wisconsin, Police Department.
Despite the rain and heat, both protests drew around 30 to 50 people at a time and many arrived prepared with signs with “racism is a pandemic” and “Black Lives Matter” written and masks, with some participants offering hand sanitizer to share as individuals led chants about defunding the police.
Saturday’s protest, organized by sophomore Alaa Massri and alum J’Khari Wilson, marched down the west side of campus for about 1.6 miles, or 30 minutes, to the Tampa Police Department station near Busch Boulevard. Along the way, they took over intersections to give speeches and pause to honor the victims.
The protest was originally scheduled to take place at USF’s Research Park but had to be moved off campus to the Panera Bread on Bruce B Downs Boulevard for violating the Student Code of Conduct’s social distancing protocols, according to Dean of Students Danielle McDonald.
“We’re trying to be proactive with [Massri], letting her know that she’d be violating the campus policies and, as an individual, she would have to go through [the Student Code of Conduct] process. So we wanted to do that proactively so we didn’t get in any situation,” McDonald said. “So that’s why we’re just helping people know where to go.”
If a protester is not a student nor complying with USF’s social distancing protocols, McDonald said the case would be reported to the University Police (UP).
Massri said the intent of having the protest at USF was to reunite students and the community closer together toward the cause.
“The reason for having the protest at USF was to try and gather the students at USF you know school just started so gathering these people from a bunch of different backgrounds and diverse cultures and beliefs — gathering them for something as important as this is crucial,” said Massri.
After gathering a group of about 50 people, the protesters marched down the right southbound lane of Bruce B Downs and North 30th Street.
“The route today was based on, No. 1, this is a marginalized community we are in,” said Wilson, who graduated from USF in 2019. “There’s a lot of low-income black families that live here, people that are affected by these issues every single day, so we believe that that is the audience that we need to captivate, that we need to actually bring out to these protests because those are the ones we care about.”
The protesters ended their march at the Tampa Police Department, where Massri laid out seven candles on the ground in a circle, representing each time Blake was shot in Kenosha.
All of the protesters were given small candles for the memorial, and those who brought them walked around with lighters to help out.
“We’re going to do a moment of silence, to give our respects to Jacob Blake, who is currently paralyzed from the waist down, as well as handcuffed to his own bed by the police,” said Massri. “We’re going to take this moment of silence to send our thoughts and our prayers to him and his family as well as all of the other lives that have been lost to police brutality.”
The protesters then took a knee, bowed their heads and raised their fists in silence.
Less mobile but equally vocal about systemic injustices was the protest on Friday, organized by the Tampa Bay Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). USF student and SDS member David Jones stood on higher ground in front of Boston Market at the intersection of East Fowler Avenue and 56th Street with a megaphone to address the crowd and lead in various chants throughout the afternoon.
Jones said the purpose of the gathering was to stand in solidarity with the SDS chapter in Kenosha, where its members have been receiving “pushback” from Kenosha’s police force, according to Jones.
Some have even been arrested, he said.
“Their members have been getting arrested and have been held for two days now,” said Jones.
Jones said that the goal of the protest was not just limited to the events involving Jacob Blake’s hospitalization. SDS is also demanding action within the Tampa Bay community for Jonas Joseph, who was killed on April 28 after a shootout with Tampa police, as well as the establishment of a Community Police Accountability Council that would provide additional oversight of Tampa’s police force.
“Our immediate goal is to push and demand that State Attorney Andrew Warren release the autopsy reports for Jonas Joseph, a demand that we got from speaking with the family of Jonas Joseph,” said Jones.
“A long-term goal, with the other group I belong to [Tampa Bay Community Action Committee] is establishing a Community Police Accountability Council here in Tampa that can both make preventative measures and get the justice that these families need in the first place.”
About 40 people attended SDS’s protest on Friday afternoon. The protest lasted about two hours, during which participants came and went throughout the afternoon at the location.
After Saturday’s protest, Massri and Wilson said they have plans to work with Black Lives Matter (BLM) Tampa in the future and hope to bring about “serious change” soon.
“I think showing the government and those in power that the people are going to stand up and fight for what is right no matter what,” said Massri. “We’re here in the pouring rain right now and we’re still standing up for justice, we’re still standing up to our oppressors. I think that just shows the extent to which this is the revolution — this isn’t a one-time thing, this is going to be the change.”
For Massri, who attended her 47th protest on Saturday, she said this is only the beginning.
“We are showing the government and those in power that the people are going to stand up and fight for what is right no matter what,” Massri said. “We’re here in the pouring rain right now and we’re still standing up for justice, we’re still standing up to our oppressors. That just shows the extent to which this is the revolution and it’s not a one-time thing. This is going to be the change.”
Additional reporting by Leda Alvim.