Police Violence Mars Free Education Demonstration

Jon Bigger, resident contributor at Freedom News, brings us his account of yesterday student demonstration in central London. Marred by vicious police violence and abandoned by the ever principled National Union of Students, the march went ahead and voiced its important and just message: free education is a right for all.


 

Photo: Jon Bigger
Photo: Jon Bigger

Sometimes things aren’t peaceful. The day had started loudly with a samba band marching from the London School of Oriental and African Studies. Stragglers marched with it to join the back of the demonstration for free education that was assembling a block away on Malet Street. It ended with police violence as the authorities snatched people off the street for having the nerve to march spontaneously through the streets of the capital. Here’s an account of the demonstration for free education that took place on Wednesday 19th November.

The demonstration itself was a wonderful, vibrant and good natured march through London on a dry and mild November day. The decision by the National Union of Students (NUS) committee to withdraw support for the march had not dwindled numbers and in fact may have made students even more determined. That decision could render the NUS an irrelevance in the years to come as students up and down the country look to alternative forms of organising which might bypass the careerists in the movement. Already there is talk of new organisations and further action, specifically occupations and local activities on 3rd and 6th December.

There were banners from around the country and a quick glance at Twitter suggested many people had joined coaches very early in the morning to get to London for the start. The march passed off noisily and once it reached Parliament there was a schism between those that wanted to occupy Parliament Square and those that wanted to head to College Green for the rally and

speeches. The barriers designed to keep people out of the Square were fairly feeble and it wasn’t long before a few hundred people were occupying it. There was a brief discussion on what should happen next and it was democratically decided that a further march would demonstrate the frustrations of students better than simply staying put.

This fluid march was accompanied by ever increasing numbers of police who got more desperate and frustrated as the afternoon wore on. Freedom of movement was constantly challenged as police vans appeared down every side street forcing protesters down roads in an attempt to avoid kittling. An attempt to occupy the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills was met with hostility as cops emerged in numbers to ‘protect’ the building.

Photo courtesy of: Guy Smallman
Photo: Guy Smallman

Further up Victoria Street tactics changed and the state forces turned more thuggish and brutal. Two people were brought down opposite Westminster Cathedral and dragged into vans. A few minutes later I witnessed another protester taken down in front of me for no apparent reason. A few people came to their aid and then police piled in violently, hurling people to the ground. Beth Redmond, who has been working full time on organising the demonstration for the National Campaign Against Fees and Cuts, was shoved to the ground in front of me. I caught up with her today. “They threw me to the ground with such force that I haven’t been able to bend my knee properly all day” she said. She went on to point out that “the attacks from the met were random and just being used as an intimidation tactic. A lot of the arrestees (and others) were injured pretty badly too, some people had to go to hospital. At one point I heard a police officer say to another ‘we’re not here for that! You can’t be that violent!’”.

A statement of intent on the window of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Photo: Jon Bigger
A statement of intent on the window of the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Photo: Romayne Phoenix

The intended effect of these snatches was to dissipate the protest and bring it to a halt. Many people left the scene fearing more serious violence was to come. Others went in their various groups down other side streets to carry on demonstrating. According to the BBC the police made a total of 11 arrests. However some reports put the figure as high as 15 but the understanding is that everyone was released without charge. This adds to the notion that the snatching of people off the streets is nothing more than a tactic to discourage people from protesting.

The buildings of Westminster are where UK citizens are governed from. Our governance is underpinned by the implied threat and the brutish reality of state violence. By the time the sun was setting yesterday only the threat remained but the reality lies dormant for future demonstrations.

The fight for free education is a just cause. It is a right we should all support and it is one which should bring many more people onto the streets at future demonstrations despite state intimidation.

Jon Bigger