A march yesterday at the University of London ended in kettling, arrests and blood on the pavement after a week of alleged police brutality
Students’ anger at police violence boiled over at a protest at the University of London yesterday afternoon, which saw police using batons, blood on the pavement and 36 students arrested.
The march, which had initially been organised to protest against increased police presence on university grounds under the slogan ‘Cops off Campus’, took on a more serious tone following reports of police violence against students on Wednesday night. Students who had been occupying Senate House were apparently forcibly removed from the property, after the university called in the authorities, with one witness saying the police had been “incredibly violent”. Several videos have surfaced since, including one (below) which appears to show a police officer pushing a female student to the ground.
According to a student present at the protest on Wednesday, roughly 50 students participated in the occupation, with over 100 students protesting outside. The students had revealed beforehand that they would remain inside the building until all ten of their demands were met. Among these were demands that outsourced staff to receive a pension and equal sick and holiday pay, equal to that which in-house staff receive, that the University of London opposed the privatisation of student loans in a public statement, that the maximum ratio between the wages of staff exceed no more than 10:1, and that the cost of university accommodation should be less than the total amount received in a maintenance loan.
Similar protests have been occurring throughout the country this week, and the events at ULU are but one example of the increasingly severe manner with which they are being dealt. At Sussex university five students have been suspended for their part in a ‘peaceful’ protest. And earlier this year, Cambridge police attempted to recruit ‘spies’ to gather information on Cambridge University student protests. When, in 2011, a number of students at Royal Holloway university occupied a single corridor in a protest, the university responded by calling in the police to clear them out. More recently another video has surfaced which appears to show a police officer punching a student to the floor, during another protest at ULU earlier this week.
We contacted the Metropolitan Police for a comment on the incident, but they told us that they are yet to receive any complaints about their conduct. However, as 23-year-old UCL student, Tom pointed out to me yesterday: “What’s the point in complaining? People have been murdered by the police and nothing’s been done about it.”
Other than the obvious shared cause, what also links the events on Wednesday and yesterday’s protest is how quickly things escalated, and the level of force with which police reacted. What began as a fairly small gathering in Malet Street, quickly grew to a crowd of about 150, who first marched to Senate House, throwing pink smoke bombs as they went, and then on down the road to Russell Square. As the march continued, it became clear that the protestors believed the police were responsible for much worse crimes than simply manhandling a few students. Among the various chants that went up, the one that recurred the most frequently was: “Who killed Mark Duggan? The police killed Mark Duggan!”
20 minutes after the protesters had set off, they reached the Russell Square entrance of the Senate House car park, only to find the gates locked, and four police with batons standing on the other side. As the protesters rocked the gates back and forth, the first sirens were heard and no less than 11 riot vans drew up. Scuffles between protesters and police broke out, as the crowd chanted “Scum, scum” and “Racist, murders, violent scum.” Eventually the police managed to form a line and began moving forward – side-stepping a bench that some protesters had removed from a local park to form a barricade.
I spoke to a Birkbeck professor as we watched the two sides face off. She had come to support the students after being shocked by the events on Wednesday. “They have a right to civic action, and these are legitimate disputes that aren’t being addressed by their treatment last night. The level of violence from the police is making things worse, and the university’s management has been terrible.” Other students at the protest echoed these sentiments about the actions of the university itself. Tom had pointed out to me earlier that: “It’s a sad day when a university calls in the police on its own students.”
Indeed, it seemed that the students were as frustrated and angry about the action of their own university, as they were about the police. The University of London was widely condemned in July this year, after saying they were “no longer willing to tolerate demonstrations” in certain areas. “They’re complicit,” 19-year-old history student Mark told me, “They called the police themselves to tell them where he was.” Chessum had spoken out about the break-up of the Senate House occupation on Wednesday saying it was “one of the nastiest, most brutal I’ve seen on campus in a long time”.
As the rain came down, the protestors’ chants of “Whose streets? Our streets”, became lost in the sound of the downpour. The crowd dispersed and splinter groups got separated from each other, meaning the police were able to direct some towards Euston Square station where they proceeded to kettle a group of about 40 students, keeping them blocked in against the glass walls of the station entrance. They then proceeded to arrest the protestors, including the editor of the London Student, Oscar Webb, who was reporting on the scene, taking them to a variety of stations across south London. There were also reports that a man with a crutch had been violently bundled into the back of a police van.
But the students are defiant: last night Chessum tweeted: “35 or more arrested, dozens of riot vans, kettles in cold. Deliberate attempt to intimidate us on our own campus. Won’t work #copsoffcampus”, and the below picture of blood on the pavement has been circulated widely on social media. There are calls for a national day of action, next Wednesday 11th December.
— Occupy Senate House (@SHoccupation) December 5, 2013
A student’s extreme bail conditions was also later posted on Twitter:
— Occupy Senate House (@SHoccupation) December 6, 2013
It seems unlikely that this week’s events are going to lead to a change of attitude from either the police or universities, although the march did at least get some attention from the national press. However, with another day of protest already scheduled it would appear that the what began as objections against the increasing police presence on campuses, has now turned into something altogether more serious. On the Facebook page for next Wednesday’s event, it reads “The scale of the police’s response has never been witnessed on British universities. Students beaten, strangled, having teeth punched out, dragged across roads, and violently bundled into vans. This cannot be allowed to continue.”
Yesterday, as I stood watching the crowd disband as the rain came in, I overheard two SOAS student onlookers discussing the protest. “The sad thing is people will just see this and think it’s another stupid student protest, when actually they’re saying something quite important. They have been terribly treated and yet this will just be ignored like everything else.”
Additional reporting by Charles Chasty.
All protest images: Lucy Draper, barricade image: Oscar Webb