Woman filmed carrying podium to UF’s commencement speech apologizes

A protester who was captured on camera carrying a podium used by the University of Florida’s commencement speaker at a 2017 march has pleaded guilty to an unlawful use of a weapon charge. The…

Woman filmed carrying podium to UF’s commencement speech apologizes

A protester who was captured on camera carrying a podium used by the University of Florida’s commencement speaker at a 2017 march has pleaded guilty to an unlawful use of a weapon charge.

The incident, captured by video-camera at an anti-kleptocracy rally that took place on Jan. 6, is one of several that the university was embroiled in over the course of the year. In the days after the march, Donald Trump supporters and others took to the UF social media accounts and made threats about what would happen if the university honored anti-kleptocracy protester Juan Antonio Samaranch Jr.

Samaranch is the grandson of José Luis Nazario Sánchez — the Spanish civil war leader and diplomat whose books, the Hernando and Isadora novel and the The Last Emperor, helped to popularize the cult of the military in Spanish-speaking countries. Mr. Samaranch is a highly qualified man who has devoted most of his life to scientific projects, including teaching engineering at UF since 1992.

The video of the protest shows a protester holding a wooden lectern behind him, and walks forward as Dr. Samanya Rajeev, a Spanish doctoral student from India, approaches the podium and looks up at the camera.

“Threats are never OK,” Ms. Rajeev wrote on Facebook. “I would go to jail for it if I could, but I can’t because the police say it’s not a crime.”

Ms. Rajeev said she was attacked at the rally by a group of men with tiki torches, and was injured during the attack. She said she “sat on the ground with her head in the dirt,” but eventually made it out of the “hideous field” and was taken to a clinic by police.

She added, “I will remain patient for justice and confidence in the higher education and the Cuban community. I trust in how much they value a university, and respect it and our contribution to it.”

Police stopped the action at the rally, and they confirmed later that they arrested the person who had been carrying the lectern.

Like many universities, UF does not permit public demonstrations or speeches in the immediate vicinity of the campus. The department of public safety has a “peacekeeper rule” — a statement that the attendees of a given event are not to protest within 1,000 feet of the venue or of those who hold it.

When that rule was violated, UF could not penalize people who chose to engage in protest without trespassing.

“Protest can be as a legitimate means of communication, or, among other things, say something to them,” Diana Cano, a spokesperson for the university, told the New York Times last year.

The UF police department acknowledged that it was caught off guard by the situation, and the university acknowledged that there are conflicting traditions. “Our community has varying views,” said the university’s press office. “These differing views happen, but do not routinely occur on a public place.”

Juan Carlos Samaranch Sr. addressed the crowd at the graduation ceremony in May of 2017, but student organizers were taken aback and clashed with university administration over the speech. They were also opposed to the school awarding him an honorary degree.

“I do not fear death,” Samaranch told the crowd. “My father left me nothing to fear.”

Mr. Samaranch is credited with creating the new European Broadcasting Union — a body that is increasingly sensitive to national surveillance.

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