by #copsoffcampus protester In December 2013 a group of students attempted to stage a sit-in occupation at the HQ of the University of London, Senate House, to protest against attacks by university management on students and staff. For months building up to the sit-in, contract staff had been campaigning for proper pay and conditions, and students had been outraged at the closure of ULU.
On a number of occasions in the past academic year, the university authorities not only relied on their own security staff and supervisors to intimidate students and workers, but also called in the
Metropolitan police. When students attempted the sit-in, the police were called in, and the protestors were violently evicted. Footage of a police officer punching a student in the face was published by the Guardian.
This was the day before a separate demonstration calling for ‘Cops Off Campus’ – a demonstration to protest against an increasing police presence and harassment on campuses. As a consequence of police violence the previous evening, the demonstration was large and defiant.
University management responded by locking students out of their own campus using a clearly visible squad of riot police. When the protest moved to the gates at the rear of Senate House, police emerged from the building and began baton-striking vocal but non-violent protestors through a locked gate (again, footage of this was published on The Guardian’s website the following day).
As dusk came, the police tried to kettle as many protesters as they could. Forty one people were arrested.
Of these forty one, only 4 have been charged – each with at least one highly spurious count of assault PC. The assault charges are particularly galling given the range and extent of injuries sustained by students on the day – one of the accused had his head smashed off against the plate glass window wall of Euston Square tube station before being punched in the face, thrown to the floor and stamped on during his arrest.
This is not the first time students have found themselves in this situation.
Earlier this year Ashok Kumar and Simon Behrman were successful in winning damages after wrongly being charged with assault during a protest against Education Minister David Willetts at SOAS in 2011. Having been wrestled to the ground, arrested, strip-searched, fingerprinted and charged with offences that could have damaged their careers, the judge in Simon’s case said the police’s version of events had been “blown out of the water”.
Despite this, no action has been taken against the officers involved as a result of a disciplinary investigation.
Meanwhile attempts to find out more about these policing operations have been obstructed, with freedom of information requests about the Public Order Unit of Scotland Yard, ‘Operation Red Oak’ rejected.
The cops off campus protests last academic year drew widespread support from students and staff and their demands’ remain important.
The use of police by university managements to intimidate and criminalise students and staff protesting against cuts, privatisation and low wages, has become an increasingly prevalent feature of the current phase of marketisation taking place in our universities. Supporting those individuals who find themselves facing charges, is therefore important in ensuring people are not punished or deterred from defending our universities against these attacks, and our campuses as places people where are free to organise and protest.
The trial dates are September 30th and October 1st. Check the website for updates.