Exeposé News online (10 December 2013)
Students across the country have called for a national day of action in response to claims of brutal measures taken by police forces to quell recent student protests.
A Facebook event by the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, entitled ‘#copsoffcampus: NATIONAL DAY OF ACTION’ encourages students to take action tomorrow in response to calls from groups nationwide. The event description states that recent levels of violence in police responses to student protests “cannot be allowed to continue”, calling for “urgent solidarity” amongst students.
This call for action follows multiple claims in recent days of police brutality towards student protesters. On Wednesday December 4, five people were arrested after students occupied rooms in Senate House in protest against plans to close the University of London Union (ULU).
Despite claims by students that the protest was peaceful, one unnamed participant stated that many protesters were “crushed and hit as police lashed out, punching students and pulling their hair and clothes.” A video appearing to show a policeman punching a student demonstrator has also emerged.
However, Chris Cobb, the chief operating officer of the University of London responded to claims of brutality, asserting that “invading our working environment and blocking fire escapes is potentially life threatening and plays no part in democratic dissent,” while a spokesperson for the Metropolitan police urged anyone with concerns about officers’ actions to “call 101 and report them.”
Violence continued on Thursday 5th December, as students clashed with police during a “Cops off Campus” demonstration protesting against police presence on university campuses. In response to the alleged violence on Wednesday night, the protest saw 200 to 300 students gathering outside the University of London Union (ULU), 36 of whom were arrested, with others reportedly kettled by police.
ULU president Michael Chessum described an “angry” and “vibrant” atmosphere, adding: “I think there’s a spark in the student movement I haven’t seen since 2011. I think that people are just going to keep coming back.”
Outside London, recent demonstrations at Sussex University have led to the indefinite exclusion of five students, provoking dismay among activists nationwide. The students had been participating in an occupation protesting against the alleged “marketisation of higher education”.
Despite voluntarily leaving the occupied buildings after an injunction was sought against them, the students were later suspended for acting as “a potential hazard to sustaining the university’s policies on health and safety”.
Labour MP for Hayes and Harlington John McDonnell has however expressed support for the students, stating: “It’s outrageous that students exercising their traditional democratic right to protest have been persecuted in this way”.
A petition which gained 4,291 signatures in under 24 hours called for the retraction of this suspension, described by one of the protesters Michael Segalov as “an attack on the right to protest and freedom of speech”.
John Duffy, the registrar at Sussex, defended the suspensions, suggesting a need to “make it clear that activities that seriously disrupt our campus community will carry consequences.”
#copsoffcampus has called for students to “mobilise harder” and fight to uphold the notion of “an education that is public and democratic, free for all”. Demonstrations have been planned at ULU, with students who cannot make it to London being encouraged to take action within their own campuses.
Exeter students will have the opportunity to visit a stall in the Forum from 12pm, raising awareness of the alleged violations of democratic rights.
In addition, an event in Queens building at 7pm tomorrow – which will include “free live music, short films, poetry and possibly food” – aims to encourage Exeter students to show solidarity with protests nationwide, described as “an issue that affects all of us.”