Chaos and confusion ensued at yesterday’s protest against the Browne Review, as a student was punched in the face by a policeman and thrown to the ground.
The protest was organised ahead of Vince Cable’s talk at Exams Schools. Despite Cable’s last minute cancellation, hundreds gathered to voice their anger about the cuts and removal of the cap on tuition fees.
Students chanted, “No ifs, no buts, no education cuts” and “Vince Cable, shame on you, shame on you for turning Blue”.
Though the event had been planned and advertised as a peaceful protest, violence erupted after police prevented protesters moving onto the High Street and enforced a change of route.
A bystander described how a line of police blocked Catte Street. As some protesters tried to break the line, a student was punched in the face by a policeman and thrown to the ground.
Lewis Greaves from St Hilda’s said “I saw two cops trying to beat up a guy, I asked them to stop and a policeman grabbed my neck and threw me to the floor”.
As protesters retreated and moved back to Broad Street they were confronted with a line of police barricading the road between Trinity Gates and the entrance to Turl Street.
Some students shouted “charge, charge” and some were restrained by the police. The protest eventually moved down Turl Street and onto Market Street, where they were again confronted with a police line preventing access to Cornmarket Street.
Some tried again to charge the line, but many students put their hands in the air and chanted, “We are peaceful, what are you?”
Jordan Waller from Wadham said, “It’s disgusting seeing them ‘break up’ the protest so aggressively- I’m ashamed. The police are instigating all the violence, I didn’t see a single student instigate anything.”
Leo-Marcus Wan said, “It’s ridiculous that the police are trying to stop us exercising our right to free speech. We disagree with the decision of a government we did not elect, made with no consultation of students.”
Not all students were satisfied with the way the protest was conducted. John Lavrey, a St Catz fresher, defended the police’s behaviour, saying, “I think the police dealt well with the situation- in the circumstances they dealt a lot better than they have in the past.”
Another student said, “We’re trying to gain respect and change people’s views. How can we show that we’re educated if we’re fighting the police?”
Aditya Balachander, an OUCA member, commented, “I’m here to support free speech, but I fundamentally disagree with this protest. It turns what should be debate and discussion into a shouting match.”
The protest was organised by OxfordEducation Campaign, ahead of Vince Cable’s talk at Exams Schools, which was part of the Lessons in Government Seminars.
Cable initially claimed that his cancellation followed guidance from Thames Valley Police. However, a TVP spokesperson said that they were happy for the event to go ahead, and had merely informed Cable that a protest was being organised.
A spokesman for the Oxford Education Campaign said: “Vince should come clean and admit that he ducked out because he didn’t want to face the hundreds of demonstrators who disagree with his vision for the future of higher education in this country.”
Kathryn Smoraczewska, a 4th year from St Hilda’s, said she felt “massively let down” by Cable, and is “wondering how yellow the Lib Dems really are”.
Yaro Walker from St Peter’s said, “We were lied to before the election by both the Tories and the Lib Dems. Vince Cable can give any excuse he likes, but he’s a coward, he doesn’t want to admit he betrayed his principles for a seat in power.”
Thames Valley police said that the protest had passed off “pretty peacefully.” OUSU president David Barclay said, “OUSU fully supports the protest. The test of its success will be the impact on the wider debate.”
A spokesperson for OxfordEducation Campaign, who organised the protest, said, “What today demonstrated was the fantastic energy of a hundreds of autonomous individuals – students, academics and town residents – acting collectively to send a clear message to Vince Cable and the coalition government: We reject the Browne review, we reject your public sector cuts, and we know why you were afraid to present yourself to us in person. You cannot defend the indefensible.”