As the police clamp down on the right to protest, we need a more forceful resistance than ever.
Students and others attending the 10th November 2010 Tuition Fees Protest, and the 28th March TUC ‘March for the Alternative’ have been put in prison (or are facing jail) for the most flimsy of reasons, like putting a placard into a burning metal bin. We have seen protestors dragged through the courts for throwing strawberry yoghurt at the frontage of a bank, and, shockingly, under 18s held by the police without access to lawyers for many hours.
What of the Fortnum and Mason protestors, who peacefully occupied the tax-dodging store, ended their protest and were promptly arrested by the Met, all after being given assurances by a senior officer that they would be allowed to leave? Several are still being prosecuted.
Over the summer we have witnessed extraordinarily stiff sentences given out to ‘rioters’ (disturbances we should note that were kick started by the police murder of a black man in Tottenham, one of a regular series of deaths at the hands of the police or in custody), including custodial sentences for those stealing bottles of water, not to mention those handed four years who merely ineptly created Facebook events.
If you are a young black (mostly likely) male in London, the amount of times you will have been stopped and searched must also be taken as an affront to basic civil liberties. I myself have seen the violence and aggression of the police on multiple occasions. I’ve seen a young girl batoned over the head outside Milbank Tower, and some extraordinary scenes outside the School of Oriental and African Studies when we tried to protest at the visit of David Willets; it was like a military operation with barriers, vans and riot police on our campus.
What has changed in the last year are the police tactics – much harder and unpredictable now – as well as the eagerness of the judiciary to harshly punish protestors. They do this in order to intimidate others and prop up the Government, whose interests are of course their own.
It is sad that Universities, which should be places of free expression and learning, have accepted this agenda too. We see police officers invited onto campus, ‘extremist’ students monitored, private security guards hired to prevent students attending meetings – and even student unions are in on the act. Birmingham Guild of Students have indefinitely suspended one of their sabbatical officers for dropping a banner off a bridge, protesting against Nick Clegg’s broken promises. Edward Bauer was, outrageously, kept in prison for 10 days by the police and later a magistrate, a young man who poses no danger to society (unless having a different conception of society is dangerous to the authorities).
Instead of backing him and protesting against his sickening treatment – basically internment – his Union and University have failed to support him. He has not even been convicted of the ludicrous road traffic offence that he has been accused of (the banner was unfurled high over a road), and even his Lib Dem MP has said it is a waste of public money to prosecute him.
This is the crazy world we are living in now, and the mainstream media seems not to care one bit. That’s why we need a fightback against this repression; we need to demand our civil right, the right to protest. We need to assert our Universities as spaces for free thinking, radicalism and democracy, not police vans and riot shields. An important part of that fightback is unity and solidarity with those injured, victimised, arrested and prosecuted. And the best way to defy the police’s message? Go on a protest!
We have to assert our rights – together we are stronger. If we make our student protest on the 9th of November massive, and indeed come out and close down our Universities on the 30th of November alongside our lecturers and public sector workers, that is another blow against fear and repression. See you on the streets!
From London Student
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