Saturday 6 December 2014

Police violence at Warwick University

The, to put it politely, heavy-handedness perpetrated by police officers against student demonstrators at Warwick University this week was shocking if not exactly surprising. As we have learned several times over the past few years, universities around the world now protect their hierarchy first and their students second. Likewise, the police are now seemingly incapable of distinguishing young people acting disobediently but legitimately from errant lumps of flesh to be first aggravated and then pacified by whatever means are necessary. Both these are common threads running through far more than this one isolated case.

(Link to other relevant resources, including an alumni petition. This open letter at Critical Legal Thinking is particularly excellent in its composed forcefulness.)

The Vice Chancellor's personal response is a masterpiece of contorted vacuity, including this gem:
I, like many others, have been saddened by the images of what then occurred which saw police and students having to engage in and resolve an unnecessarily challenging situation which led on from the actions of one individual.
The 'one individual' in question being a student who is alleged to have assaulted a member of university security personnel. For this the police were called and from that, for reasons yet to be explained in anything even approaching a satisfactory manner, the police felt the need to CS gas students at close range, drag a young woman around by her scarf and threaten others with a Taser electro-shock weapon (as Amnesty rightly insist upon it being called).

Whatever any individual may or may not have done, the fact that this kind of police behaviour on campus can be shrugged off as a 'challenging situation' is deplorable. Incidents of this sort have been more or less normalised in recent years and the wilful acquiescence of the 'powers that be' to this situation (as with every other blight on the university sector) is shameful.

It is most telling that the VC declines to comment directly on the actions of police but is perfectly happy to insinuate that all blame for this incident lies with the 'individual' (whose actions remain alleged). Even if this individual is found guilty of whatever it is they are claimed to have done, that doesn't justify the police's behaviour in dealing with what was by all accounts, up to their arrival, an otherwise placid and legitimate sit-in. That university suits are willing to hang one individual out to dry to save the blushes of the police speaks volumes of their priorities and makes a mockery of their duty of care.

How all this contrasts with Lawrence Green, an MA student at Warwick, who gave a wonderfully eloquent response to the incident, as a representative of the student perspective, on Channel 4 News a couple of nights ago. He argues the case far better than I can, and has more right to do so.

While the University's administrators are probably just trying to do what is best, in their view, for their institution, the contrast between their mealy-mouthed missives and the eloquent, passionate poise of their students is stunning. If only the suits could realise that it is precisely this sort of intelligent passion that their institution is there to cultivate. If only they still had some sense, from beneath the crushing decades of paperwork and commercialisation, of what they are actually there for...