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Tear Gas, Protests, And Arrests: It's All Been Kicking Off At Warwick University
The Debrief: News from the front line at the Warick University Student protests
Violent scenes have erupted on campus at The University of Warwick in the past few days, after three students were arrested and others sprayed with tear gas (some say it was pepper spray) when a peaceful protest by the demo group Warwick for Free Education turned nasty on Wednesday.
Students had arranged a 'sit-in' demo in university building Senate House in protest of tuition fees and cuts, but when a member of staff was allegedly assaulted, police were called and things kicked off.
As a recent Warwick grad, I've spoken to some of my friends who have been taking part in the protests and are sending me photos of what's going on. Demos like this have become an endemic part of Warwick culture - a University that churns out many of the country's top bankers and city boys/girls, but also has a miliant left-wing student faction. I remember last year when my fem-lit seminars were repeatedly cancelled due to staff strikes on pay (my discussion on Monica Ali's Brick Lane was cancelled twice) and the Occupy Warwick group (like Occupy Wallstreet, only more Midlands-y) caused a similar level of campus debate and disruption. I spoke to some of the people involved to see just what was going on.
'On Wednesday it started out like any normal student protest – a small crowd of students chanting about tuition fees outside Senate House then apparently one guy lashed out at security and the police were called,' James Allen, a Masters student said after I contacted him through mutual friends.
Another student -who doesn't want to be named - tells me he was on the way to a post-grad lecture near Senate House when the violence kicked off, 'one person was lying flat on the floor with a policeman on top of him. He shouted "I have been repeatedly kneed in the face by this officer". The officer then threatened to taser him though he was pretty subdued! It was very aggressive and I can't help but feel the police and security brought the violence with them. I saw the students as entirely peaceful.'
Tasers are pretty extreme for what seemed like a peaceful demo, although West Midlands Police issued a statement denying their use on students, and no-one actually seems to have been tasered. However, three people were arrested and loads of pictures are circulating on social media of students injured by the tear gas which looks pretty gruesome.
There’s also this shocking video taken in Senate House which shows a policeman dragging a girl across the floor by her scarf:
Things escalated further on Thursday afternoon when demonstrators and supporters organised a #copsoffcampus march - so basically a protest in protest of the treatment of the protesters (how many times can we say protest?) which took place on campus. I called one of my best mates, Abi Awojobi a 21-year-old finalist who said around a thousand people turned up at 3.30pm to demonstrate against the violence shown by security and police;
'Basically I gave a speech and said we should stand united with the student body as we completely condemn and deplore police brutality. We had students speaking to represent different groups on campus and everyone was really united. We even had some staff members read poetry and speak in support of us. The protest turned into a march and we ended up in Senate House again. Suddenly three masked students smashed the back doors of Senate House, shouting: 'No justice, no peace, fuck the police!' before running off. We have no idea who they were. We walked around campus, and some students occupied another building called the Rootes building. Campus security followed and tried to block people from entering, even though some of them had exams. It was madness. We were told we couldn’t enter because ‘there was a riot’ but apart from the masked students everything has been completely peaceful.'
Despite my support for free education I can't help but feel masked students smashing in doors completely undermines the entire cause. On the Facebook page for Thursday's march, some students were expressing their disgust for the behaviour of the protestors, commenting that their violence against a member of staff on Wednesday had caused the police and security to fight back. Denise Vlachau was one of these students. She works in Senate House and was less convinced by the student revolts; 'The police probably used to much force but it does not seem that it was not unprovoked. Today those supporting the protestors are a generation of people that are persistently manipulated by social media. They have seen the propaganda and now it has become an exciting, trendy event that people want to be involved with. Really, they should all just go and do some work.'
Despite the overwhelming support for those who had been injured in the protests (alumni created petitions demanding that the Uni apologise and students occuiped the police station in support of those arrested and detained for 24 hours) there are still some students who are pissed off at the disruption caused to their learning.
But if this sparks any kind of serious debate about public education then that can only be a good thing, and it serves to highlight an increasingly dissatisfied and militant student and staff body, which isn't as apparent at other red-bricks. And with University applications down each year, maybe Warwick should listen up.
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