Protesters Arrested at Gonzales Speech
In his first appearance at a university since resigning in August, former U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales was met at UF on Monday with a mixture of cheers, boos and scattered interruptions by protesters, two of whom were arrested.Gonzales, who resigned from his position after a controversial tenure, spoke to more than 800 people at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.
During his prepared speech, Gonzales largely avoided discussing the controversies he faced in office, including his dismissal of nine U.S. attorneys.
Instead, he focused on encouraging students to consider a career in public service while describing his own experiences in that field.
About 15 minutes into his speech, two UF students, Richard Gutierrez and Kevin Hachey, climbed onto the stage wearing orange jumpsuits and black hoods on their heads.
University Police Department officers scrambled onto the stage to remove them.
Matthew Cox, an employee of the Phillips Center, wrestled with one protester on the far side of stage, grabbing his legs and pulling him down.
The other stood directly next to Gonzales, who calmly avoided looking in his direction.
As police took the protester away, Gonzales glanced in his direction before attempting to continue his speech while he waited for the raucous crowd to settle down after a few minutes.
A few more protesters climbed onto the stage.
Meanwhile, even more protesters stood up, removed shirts or jackets revealing yellow T-shirts that read "SHAME," and stood with their backs toward Gonzales.
They remained standing in their positions for the rest of the event.
Eventually, Gonzales continued his speech and then sat across from Henry Wihnyk, a UF law professor, for a question-and-answer session.
Wihnyk read students' questions, which had been written on index cards before and during Gonzales' speech.
During Gonzales' address, the self-described "son of a Mexican immigrant and cotton picker" said his life was evidence of the American dream.
"I love America for all that she has done for me," he said. "We are not perfect. Sometimes we stumble, but we always get up."
Gonzales said he was proud of his record and defended his work with President Bush, though there were missteps, he said.
Later, he ignored scattered jeers from the crowd to answer questions about his dismissal of the attorneys, the Geneva Convention and torture.
Afterward, UPD Lt. Stacey Ettel said Gutierrez and Hachey were arrested for disrupting a public event.
Ettel said UPD expected most of the protester's actions because they received information about some of the plans prior to the event. However, UPD did not anticipate what Gutierrez and Hachey did, he said.
Still, Ettel said he believed most of the protesters' behavior was acceptable.
"I felt like they were able to express their feelings and voice their concerns from a visual viewpoint," he said.
Steve Orlando, UF spokesman, said the usual number of four security officers was present. He added that he also thought most of the protesters expressed their views reasonably.
"A few crossed the line, but I think it went pretty well," Orlando said.
"I think Mr. Gonzales saw a whole lot of First Amendment tonight," he added with a laugh. "As he said, that's what this place is about."
© 2007 The Alligator