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Cambridge student demo: policeman punched student in the face


1:00 pm - November 25th 2010

by Paul Sagar    


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Yesterday afternoon a spokesman for the prime minister said:

Our position is that people have a right to engage in lawful and peaceful protest, but there is no place for violence or intimidation.

No doubt the PM sincerely believes this, as regards the actions of protestors. More troubling is the extent to which “violence or intimidation” is employed overtly by the police.

Yesterday I took part in the anti-cuts protest in Cambridge. Starting with a demo and city-centre march, the protests began in good spirits with a calm and pleasant atmosphere. At least a thousand people attended the march, and a considerable number of them were from local sixth form colleges protesting against the abolition of the Education Maintenance Allowance.

Most of the rest were students at Cambridge University. There were also a handful of lecturers in attendance. And best of all, school children in uniform with their teachers.

After the main march, about 500 students climbed over railings and occupied the grounds of the Senate House building on the King’s Parade road. Occupations, of course, are a long-standing method by which students attempt to force university authorities to pay attention to their demands.

After discussion, students decided to attempt to occupy the inside of the Senate House building. As students walked slowly en masse to attempt to gain entry, the police blocked their approach and drew batons. From there the situation rapidly deteriorated. Baton-strikes were very quickly made by the police. But this simply had the effect of heightening tensions dramatically.

Of course, the situation is difficult and we should try to see both sides. The police were seriously outnumbered at first, and it was clear that some of them were very scared. Others, however, obviously relished the confrontational nature of the situation, and were taking delight in striking students whilst shouting “Fuck off”, “Get fucking back” and “Fuck you”.

Unsurprisingly, this did not make the situation calmer. Rather a fight mentality quickly descended, as angered students pushed harder to gain entrance to the building. Given how tense the situation rapidly became, it was quite impressive that most students continued to shout “stay peaceful” and did not give-in to the temptation to hit back at the police.

The same cannot be said, however, for those officers who allowed the situation to escalate further by (for example) shouting “I’m going to get you” at students near the front, and in some instances closed-fist punching them. Don’t believe me? Watch the final frames of this video [unfortunately you’ll need a Facebook log-in to watch; hopefully this will be sorted out in due course and I’ll embed directly here].

The media talks a lot about “hardcore anarchist” groups “infiltrating” peaceful protests and “hi-jacking” them to start violence. It does not talk anywhere near enough – if at all – about the role of the police in creating confrontational and aggressive situations.

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About the author
Paul Sagar is a post-graduate student at the University of London and blogs at Bad Conscience.
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Story Filed Under: Blog ,Civil liberties ,Education

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Reader comments


Could that copper at the start look any more like David Mitchell?

It does not talk anywhere near enough – if at all – about the role of the police in creating confrontational and aggressive situations.

I agree the police sometimes seem to create confrontational and aggressive situations – there were a few examples at Kingsnorth.

But when people “decide to attempt to occupy the inside of the Senate House building”, “walking slowly en masse to attempt to gain entry”, with the police “blocking their approach”, which party is creating the confrontational and aggressive situation?

Yeah, sack the cops and replace em with new pacifistic ones.

“which party is creating the confrontational and aggressive situation?”

Not the students, who were explictly shouting “stay peaceful”.

I’m not saying the police necessarily should have just let students occupy. What i am saying is that the tactics police employ to control protest are needlessly aggressive and confrontational (I go into this in a bit more detail over at my place). The police force should be able to draw upon a wealth of psychology literature and tested experience in other countries – e.g. Germany – where strategies have been developed whereby the police are able to control crowds effectively, but without using aggressive and intimidating tactics that are straightforwardly counterproductive as they incite protestors to retaliate (offensively or defensively).

My uniform experience of police on protests is that whenever there is trouble, it’s the *police* that instigate it by being heavy-handed and overtly aggressive. This is simply stupid; the police authorities need to develop better tactics and supply their officers with better training.

“which party is creating the confrontational and aggressive situation?”

Not the students, who were explictly shouting “stay peaceful”.

I could shout “stay peaceful” while marching toward you and your pint. It seems to me that wouldn’t let me off the hook.

The police force should be able to draw upon a wealth of psychology literature and tested experience in other countries – e.g. Germany – where strategies have been developed whereby the police are able to control crowds effectively, but without using aggressive and intimidating tactics that are straightforwardly counterproductive as they incite protestors to retaliate (offensively or defensively).

“… police used water cannons, tear gas and batons to disperse 20,000 protesters, leaving hundreds of people needing medical treatment.” 2 October 2010

My uniform experience of police on protests is that whenever there is trouble, it’s the *police* that instigate it by being heavy-handed and overtly aggressive. This is simply stupid; the police authorities need to develop better tactics and supply their officers with better training.

I don’t dispute your experience (how could I?) or that the police often cause problems. I don’t dispute your opinion that the media seems to talk more about protestor violence than police violence. I’m just disputing this particular point, about which party that is creating this particular confrontational and aggressive situation at the Senate House.

(The Tory party! /rimshot)

@ Paul Sagar

Except that when a few weeks ago they used a very passive and minimalist approach a building ended up getting smashed up and 8 of them got taken to hospital. It’s only lucky that the notorious fire extinguisher didn’t kill a copper.

Whilst not knowing the exact circumstances and not necessarily defending the police, you do have to see their side of the situation – heavily outnumbered with students (and possibly whoever else) trying to force entry into a historic building, what call would you make?

It’s all well and good saying the students would stage a peaceful sit in protest (and I’m sure the vast majority would) but you can’t promise that can you? It only takes a few rogues to cause a lot of damage (let alone in the Senate house, which is full of antiques and artwork), and unfortunately protests like these tend to attract rogue elements, often not even attached to the cause of the protest, whose only goal is to cause trouble.

As an aside to what I was saying above, I think that in a way the the choice of venue for the protest (Senate house) forced the Police’s hands to a certain extent, for the reason I give above. Threatening damage to a 280 year old, listed building really forced a response.

Not sure why the protest organisers of the protest didn’t use one of the greens, Parkers piece or the backs to stage their protest. There would be little for the police to defend there, and any violence from the police side would have been much harder to justify.

Another clip of the same protest, including police violence:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V-sTQr9K49U&feature=player_embedded

@8 – Seems to kick off right around the time someone steals a coppers hat and joyfully throws it to the crowd as the students surge towards the doors

Trouble with coppers, you see, is that a some of them haven’t even got degrees! Obviously, with the added social and ethical awareness which a degree in policing would give, there would be no such problem. Yet more evidence why being a policeman should require a higher education. I rest my case. And them binmen who leave detritus in the road after collecting the refuse, the greater environmental and social awareness conferred by a degree in refuse disposal would solve that problem as well. Degrees needed by coppers and binmen. But hang on – those eastern europeans I see in the fields of my county – the ones who do the jobs which are too demeaning for British youth – should they really be sorting potatoes without further qualifications? Are they doing it properly?

@10 it wouldn’t surprise me if the Poles were graduates

That was a punch?

Audley Harrison could have done better!!!!!!

There was a pretty good image of the woman stealing the hat, I assume she’ll be up before the beak in a day or two. And yes, it is theft even if the woman is a student ( I assume) at a demo and laughing.

14. Dick the Prick

@13 – yup, Bertie Wooster got fined a £5 for it!

I hope the copper got ‘im good and square in the face, guv.

Over the last 30 years you will find that the vast majority of violence against the person at protests and demonstrations was dished out by the police. This is of course invisible to the mainstream media and always has been.

17. Dick the Prick

@16 – during the miners strike it was common practice to gather the cheese off one’s penis and hold it under a coppers nose which gave the impression of the copper punching first! Ah, heady days, heady days.

To be fair this dispute in a lot of ways indirectly involves the police. A great number of older police officers have kids who are at uni or potential uni students so they have an interest how this develops. Also in the last 10 yeas forces have recruited a vast mumber of graduates so a lot police on the demos will be ex students with a degree if sympathy and understanding of the dispute.

The police are also subject massive cuts that will affect their terms and conditions in the future so it’s not like Maggies boot boys of the 80,s. Of course there will always be thugs on both sides of the marches but bear in mind that this time around there is muchore understanding on the police side.

@9 Well, if you think her stealing his helmet justifies him beating someone completely different on the head with his baton, I suppose it was fine, but its a very strange notion of justice/violence you have there. As for the first clip I suppose the policeman punched the teenager in the face because he was provocatively chanting “we are peaceful, what are you”.

@19 – You forget about the crowd surging towards them and I dont have a facebook

Another clip of the same protest, including police violence:

“Violence”? I think you need to get out more.

Don’t believe me? Watch the final frames of this video [unfortunately you’ll need a Facebook log-in to watch

I’ve got a Facebook account and I can confirm you’re talking nonsense.

When there were the student “disturbances” in central London a couple of weeks ago, there were several threads on LibCon devoted to definitons of “violence”, as in, the student protestors smashing windows, throwing bricks, dropping fire extinguishers, burning buildings, etc., etc.. couldn’t justifiably be termed “violent” because, well, “violent” means something else.

So yesterday we had police pushing back protestors who refused after repreated warnings to stop trying to gain access to buildings they were not permitted to and suddenly we’ve got wholesale police “violence”.

We’ve got hundreds of students with cameras and camera phones covering every protest from every angle and the most egregious examples of police violence are overly-aggressive (arguably) pushing?

And then the author has the temerity to mention how lessons could be learned from, of all places, Germany! Let me tell you, had the police adopted German tactics yesterday, every protestor would have wandered back to their halls soaked to the skin.

You couldn’t write this stuff, except some people here do. All the time.

Well, of course David Cameron would ask that people keep their protests small, polite and non-violent – only then can they safely be ignored. And, given that a protest necessarily involves doing something that someone would rather you didn’t do, there is always going to be scope for a certain amount of argy bargy on both sides. Moaning about it is part of the choreography of protest but, ultimately its what the protest is about.

If the students stopped when asked to do so by the police then the next time, the police would ask them to stop earlier until ultimately they stayed at home. But if the police stood aside, admitted they agreed with the cause (which they probably do) and let the students occupy the senate house for as long as they liked, well that wouldn’t be much of a protest either.

Eventually, if they stayed long enough a minister would come along and he’d say “well I see you’d prefer that the cost of your education continues to be subsidised by the taxpayer and that’s a valid point of view so, I’ll just got and say a couple of thousand nurses in order to pay for your education” And then the students would feel bad and say “no, no, you’re offering a false choice predicated on the inflated importance that you give to early deficit reduction.” And the minister would then say…

The point is that, complex debates about the future of higher education are not what protests are about. Protests work best when they either advocate a simple, plausible change like giving women the vote or when they force an otherwise marginal issue onto the public agenda. But cuts in higher education are on the agenda and what needs to be done in higher education isn’t simple and it is difficult to imagine any sort of demo (with or without police brutality or student rioting) that could resolve the issues.

The thing that amazes me is why a university education should cost so much in the first place.

For comparison, according to the Independent Schools Council, the average annual cost of private school fees is about £12,000 and that cost has itself risen sharply in recent years. Think what that pays for – 30 odd classroom hours per week in class sizes that are generally well below 20 plus the marking of each night’s homework, a full range of extra-curricular activities, run by staff and often compulsory, and so on. By contrast, a typical undergraduate degree course might include 15-20 hours of lectures/week in a lecture hall with 50-100 students plus maybe one seminar/week and a tutorial every fortnight with three or four other students and access to a library. Essays can take weeks to mark rather than days, the terms are generally a good deal shorter and extra curricular activities, (which are normally run by the students themselves) are often provided at cost rather than for free.

The current government policy on tuition fees is savage, stupid unfocussed, and liable to lead to disaster. But the universities themselves have important questions to answer.

Para 3, for “say”, read “sack”

And please forgive a few other rogue typos

@21

“Violence”? I think you need to get out more.

The violence wasnt serious- a few bleeding noses and bumps on the head. Nobody mentioned “wholesale police violence”, which would have be hyperbolic, if someone had actually said it. The same is true of kettling children in freezing conditions in london; everyone is still alive and well the next day but thats hardly justification for it.

Your standards of what constitutes “violence” are clearly very high. For most, hitting someone in the face or on the head is “violent”, even if not necessarily seriously so, and in this instance the police were swinging their batons without physical provocation. Even if no serious injury is caused there was no need for any violence at all. The protesters were simply trying to reach the doors of what was in some cases their own university; doors which were in any case locked, such that there wasnt even the slightest risk of us ccupying the building. Yet they still felt the need to use violence to prevent us from so much as the symbolic victory of protesting at the doors.

And finally, unfortunately there were not hundreds of cameras recording the proetest from every angle. Had there been, many more instances of (yes moderate, but also unprovoked violence) would doubtless have been captured.

Your standards of what constitutes “violence” are clearly very high.

You should have been here a couple of weeks ago for the discussions about the Millbank riots…I mean “disturbances”.

If 3 police officers are standing in front of a door with hundreds of students bearing down on them intent on gaining entry, where do you propose the police position their arms? By their sides? How many warnings to “get back” are enough before the police are justified in drawing batons? How far should they allow the crowd to advance (given the police have no means of retreat with a bloody great Senate building at their backs) before they’re entitled to wield those batons? Should they just allow themselves to be crushed against the wall?

How many times are you going to pretend that there’s nothing remotely intimidating about facing a crowd of people hell-bent on reaching a destination and refusing requests to back off just because the members of said group are not physically punching and kicking their way towards their target?

If you put yourself at the front of such a crowd and persistnely surge forward into police ranks, then evneutally you’re going to get a clip (and even then I saw precious few clippings in the videos I watched).

Once upon a time a student protestor would have worn these bruises as a badge of pride. It seems today’s generation of student protestors are a bunch of jessies.

There was no need for them to prevent us from reaching the doorway because as Ive already said the doors were locked, as is clearly visible in both videos. Even otherwise, the students are at this very moment peacefully occupying the building anyway. The police were actively trying to get between the protesters and the door, and were free to move out of the way of the doors anytime they wanted; in fact for a couple of minutes the force of the crowd did move them to one side and no catastrophes occurred. In a democratic society crowds have to be allowed to assemble and chant even if this intimidates police. It’s a shame that the police are ruining peaceful protests.

@26 – Why were you so intent on reaching these locked doors then?

Ok, let me see if I can get this straight…

When armed and armoured riot police are faced by an advancing crowd of peaceful protesters, the entirely understandable intimidation they feel is more than sufficient justification for violence.

When peaceful protesters are faced by an advancing line of armed and armoured police mounted on armoured horses, that’s nothing to worry about, they have no grounds for complaint and they’re just being a bunch of wusses if they feel intimidated.

That about sum it up?

@ Dunc: Ive realised these guys arent willing to engage in discussion, dont waste your breath.

There was no need for them to prevent us from reaching the doorway because as Ive already said the doors were locked

And your reasons for converging on a locked door were…? To check it for woodworm?

Ive realised these guys arent willing to engage in discussion, dont waste your breath.

Risible. We had a discussion, Tom. If we didn’t, what exactly were your comments at 24 and 26 all about.

Why was my post on this thread deleted ?


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