Free speech in Gainesville carries fear—and it’s expensive

GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WFLA) — The police presence grows as you get closer to the Curtis Phillips Performing Arts Center at the University of Florida—and for good reason.

“I’m scared, I’m definitely scared,” said UF student Mackenzie Gusman of Miami. “I actually got a text from my mom asking me if I was going to the event, I told her I was going to stay as far away from campus as possible.”

Richard Spencer, the white nationalist who’s “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, in August, disintegrated into violence killing a young woman, is scheduled to speak at the campus on Thursday.

Fearing imminent violence, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in Alachua County. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has moved agents and equipment to Gainesville from all around the state. Security costs to protect against violence are estimated at more than half a million dollars.

“You have to make sure people are safe you know, you don’t want anyone to get hurt,” added Gabriel Lipartito, a student from Miami.

Spencer’s message is to create a white nation through racial cleansing. His followers find him wherever he goes, and violence is never far from anyone’s mind.

We asked local and university officials what assurances can be given to parents who are worried about their child’s safety.

“What I can tell you is the University of Florida Police department has worked extensively with local state and federal agencies to develop a comprehensive security plan,” explained the university’s Janine Sikes.

“There will be certain things like concrete barriers that are unable to be moved from certain areas so that we don’t encounter things such as vehicles being used for violence,” said Sgt. Chris Sims of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office.

Law enforcement has studied the violence that erupted in Charlottesville and in Berkley, California and learned from it.

But the safest thing for people to do is just stay away.

“At the end of the day they have their free right to say whatever they want, and I have my free right to say ‘they’re terrible people for saying those things’,” explained Zack Rolston, a UF student from Pinellas County. “But we can both say those things, that’s the point.”

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