SQ Magazine

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COMMENT: It’s time to stop the crackdown on student protest

Posted on Friday, 6 December by

Student Protest

It’s a disturbing scene to watch. A policeman charges into a young man, hitting out and punching him at least once in the face. Yet the video of the Met’s response to student protest at the University of London – a peaceful sit-in at Senate House in defence of their student union, threatened with closure – encapsulates how peaceful dissent is increasingly dealt with in Britain today. It’s a worrying trend.

WARNING: This video contains violence and strong language

It’s made more worrying still because it came on the day that five Sussex campaigners, who were fighting the outsourcing of Sussex services to private companies and in support of university workers’ strike for fair pay, were suspended and excluded from their University after an occupation of Bramber House. They have yet to be reinstated, despite a huge petition condemning management and calling for justice for the ‘Sussex Five’.

At the University of London, students were occupying Senate House on Malet Street against the forced closure of the largest students’ union in Europe by University of London management, as well as pushing for decent conditions for outsourced cleaning staff – the worthy ‘Tres Cosas’ (‘Three Things’, in Spanish) campaign.

Thirty four students, including the Editor of the London Student were arrested after more than 100 officers armed with batons broke up the sit-in. Those who have been released thus far have had bail conditions imposed on them that stop them going ‘within 50 metres of SOAS campus’ and being part of ‘a group of four or more persons’ – including themselves. Put simply, it marks the criminalisation of protest.

Raw video of students being evicted from Senate House in London

Jenny Jones, a London Assembly Member and the new Green peer in the House of Lords, has been the sole voice of reason on the Assembly so far. Commenting on the actions of the police at the University of London Union, she told the Young Greens:

It’s very worrying that the police feel free to try to suppress protest in this way. The students are concerned citizens, exercising their democratic rights, and the police should be ensuring their safety, not making them less safe. The police seemed to escalate things.”

She will now ask the Met Commissioner about the police tactics and is demanding the Mayor launch an inquiry immediately.

In Sussex, the suspension of five students over their involvement in the occupation is a shocking and unjustifiable decision by management, frightened by a growing movement on campus rejecting the privatisation university services. It’s vital that students call on them to reinstate those suspended immediately, adding our voices to the 500 or so who protested yesterday.

These two examples in London and Sussex are just the latest. Recent weeks have seen police attempting to recruit students to spy on each other in Cambridge, the arrest of Michael Chessum – the President of ULU (as well as the arrest of Vice President Daniel Cooper) and even violent police responses to students using chalk to spread their message. The call of ‘#copsoffcampus’ couldn’t be more pertinent.

In the face of huge attacks from the government – and increasingly university managements and the police – young people must resist the clampdown on democratic dissent. While we see our education system be transformed from a public good to private enterprise, there’s no alternative. With our student debt being sold off, the next few months will be crucial.

The Young Greens are proud to play a small part in defending our right to protest – and with it, the future of our education system.

See you at the national demonstration outside ULU on the 11th.

Josiah Mortimer sits on the Young Greens National Committee.

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Josiah Mortimer

Josiah Mortimer

Politics student at York University
York Uni politics student, @YoungGreenParty National Committee member, radical singer-songwriter, lefty/green type.
Josiah Mortimer

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