ACLU accuses UF of civil liberties violations in Schwarzkopf arrests
Steve Schell
September 1998

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida has accused the University of Florida of violating the civil liberties of protesters arrested on March 26, 1998 at an appearance by General H. Norman Schwarzkopf. UF President John Lombardi presented Schwarzkopf with an honorary doctorate in public service.

Six Gainesville residents were arrested at the event when they rose, as Schwarzkopf approached the podium, and chanted, "Schwarzkopf lies, Gulf Vets die" (see Iguana, April 1998). The six were charged with disrupting a school function and their bail was set at $250. Ernesto Longa, one of those arrested, said that "We were never asked any questions and were never read our rights." Three of the six have since entered a plea of no contest and were sentenced to 25 hours of community service. The others are awaiting trial.

Charles Willett, ACLU board member and a founding member of the Civic Media Center, recently presented Lombardi with a letter requesting a meeting with the UF President to discuss the guidelines concerning protests at University sponsored events. In the letter, Willett states, "at the University of Florida, apparently, one may say 'yes' but not 'no,'" referring to the fact that the only ones arrested were those in disagreement with Schwarzkopf and what he stands for.

UF General Counsel Pam Bernard quickly responded to Willet's letter, stating that "I have reviewed the police's actions and find that the actions were reasonable and necessary to prevent further disruption of the event." Bernard also referenced Rule 6C1-2.002, entitled "University of Florida; Campus Demonstrations," which she says supports the actions of University Police Department.

A thorough reading of the rule, however, reveals the very real possibility that UF's law enforcement violated the very rule they were supposed to be enforcing. The rule states, in part, "The University Police...have a responsibility to:

(a) declare a demonstration to be in violation of law and request all demonstrators to cease and desist and to disperse and clear the area or be subject to arrest and/or University disciplinary action..." According to those arrested, as well as witnesses to the event, the demonstrators were never asked to stop their protest or asked to leave. In fact, the "law enforcement" who first approached the protesters and took them from their seats were not uniformed and never identified themselves as police officers. They took the protesters from their seats and turned them over to UPD officers, who then made the arrests.

Would these individuals have stopped their chanting and put away their banner had they been asked to do so, as required by the University's rule? Apparently, UPD and the plainclothesmen, whoever they were, were not aware of their obligation under the rule to request an end to the protest. It will be interesting to see the outcome of the trial, if in fact there ever is one, for the remaining three defendants who are maintaining their innocence based upon their right to free speech.

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