FellSwoop Theatre Company express their solidarity with the students in occupation at Warwick University. We condemn the police violence on campus. We demand that the University withdraws its injunction against the occupation.
Like many people around the world, we were horrified by the footage of police attacking a student sit-in at Warwick University last Wednesday, 3rd of December. The footage shows students being grabbed and pushed and having their hair pulled, followed by CS spray being used at extremely close range in an enclosed space. A taser gun can be seen and heard and is alleged to have been used against a student. Three students were arrested.
As Warwick alumni, we saw violent attacks taking place in a space familiar to us, a place we associated with freedom of thought and the right to free expression. We, along with thousands of others who watched the footage, witnessed that space being transformed into one of violent oppression.
So we were both saddened and angered when Nigel Thrift, the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Warwick, chose to make a statement that blamed these police attacks on the students themselves. He states:
”…Yesterday’s protest uncharacteristically saw an unprovoked assault on one of our security team that gave us no alternative but to ask the police to attend the scene to investigate that alleged assault.
…the police were called solely to investigate the alleged assault on a member of staff and not in response to the protest on campus. When the police arrived our security team still endeavoured to get the individual alleged to have made the assault to fully identify himself before the police engaged directly with the protestors.
Sadly that individual, and others present, would not co-operate with this request and the police were obliged to intervene directly.”
Now, we are further disappointed to hear that the university – even after the Vice-Chancellor stated that he would ‘very much welcome’ peaceful protests from the Students Union – has served an injunction against the students that are currently in occupation protesting the police’s behaviour.
We understand that the police were called in response to an alleged assault on a member of security staff. Members of our company, in fact, have personal experience of calling the police on an assault charge. The police did not, at that time, arrive armed with CS spray and tasers and proceed to use them against unarmed civilians. The actions that the police took are clearly disproportionate to the charge that they were called out to ‘investigate.’ We would go so far as to say that the actions of the police shown in the video are assault – in fact, armed assault. That they have undertaken such action from a position of power and authority is inexcusable.
To quote a recent letter signed by a large number of staff, students and alumni:
”There is nothing in the video or other reporting to suggest that there was an imminent threat at the time of the police action, and their behaviour appears disproportionate and unacceptable. ACPO guidelines, for example, state that CS spray ‘should not be used at a distance of less than one metre unless the nature of the risk to the officer is such that this cannot be avoided’ – it is not at all clear from the video footage and reporting that there was such a risk. The students state that they had been sitting in a circle discussing free education and the university community and that they had not been informed that the police had been called and nor did the police, on arrival, tell them why they were there.”
We formed our theatre company at the University of Warwick, nurtured by an astonishingly creative student community and the support, knowledge and care of the staff. We retain professional connections with many other alumni who have begun careers in theatre and performance. It is a diverse and inclusive network built on friendship, trust and a willingness to explore new ideas, and is actively supported by staff at the university.
In many ways, the purpose of a university is to create such a network. We believe that it can only be created in an atmosphere of free expression, of support, of safety. That is why, when we were invited to take up a residency at Warwick last February, we created a piece of socio-political theatre (To Know How You Stand) that was in itself a democratic space, a safe space for deeper engagement with politics, for the sharing of ideas, for debate and protest.
With this in mind, we unequivocally condemn the violence of the police last week. We call on the Vice-Chancellor to withdraw his statement and to condemn the police violence that took place in his institution. We call on the University Management to withdraw their injunction immediately, and to agree to the demands of the student protestors, which are both fair and necessary in order to maintain a safe space for peaceful student expression.
We are as ashamed to be associated with an institution that treats its students in such a way as we are proud to be associated with its student body who are, even in the face of brutal oppression, still standing up for their right to be safe on their own campus.
Petition at change.org: https://www.change.org/p/the-university-of-warwick-warwick-alumni-demand-an-apology-to-students
Add your name to the letter from Campaign for A Public University: http://publicuniversity.org.uk/2014/12/04/the-further-criminalisation-of-student-protest/