A peaceful protest against education cuts at the University of Sydney was dispersed by NSW Police, with numerous students saying they were violently “pushed”, “tripped” and “dragged” by officers on Wednesday afternoon.
After academic staff held a teach-out (a teacher’s strike that’s allowed under the uni’s current exemptions to public health orders) at midday, police descended upon 200 to 300 students who had moved on to a separate protest at 1 PM.
“They chased after us,” USyd SRC Education Officer Jazzlyn Breen told PEDESTRIAN.TV.
“We wanted to cross the road and they started pushing people back onto the road and dragged some people by backpacks.
“People were running on a wild goose-chase trying to avoid the police.”
Police officers violently force students from the road, throwing one young woman to the ground. pic.twitter.com/egb5DkIFyM
— Honi Soit (@honi_soit) October 14, 2020
Footage even shows one student being thrown against the gutter by a police officer on Parramatta Road.
That student was UNSW SRC Education Officer Shovan Bhattarai, who told P.TV she felt “shocked and furious at the hypocrisy” of the officer who threw her.
“Today has only steeled my resolve to keep fighting against the huge austerity measures the Liberals and Vice Chancellors have worked hand-in-hand to push through,” she added.
It’s the latest in several violent incidents at USyd protests this year, with students saying they felt intimidated and at times funneled by police.
“There was no real warning or move-on orders given, it was just violent stuff,” Breen said.
Footage captured by protesters shows students sprinting through the campus away from police in riot gear who were allegedly grabbing students.
One third-year student told campus newspaper Honi Soit that he too was “tripped, pushed and dragged by my bag along the road” by police.
— jazz (@opinionatedleft) October 14, 2020
Although NSW Police used the Public Health Order to quash several student demonstrations at USyd earlier this year, students made a point to provide masks and sanitiser, and made sure to socially distance.
“I think that their actions made the rally a lot less COVID-safe,” Breen said.
“I just think it made it really dangerous, and that if they hadn’t reacted in the way they had, I think it would have been a really peaceful, calm rally that would have got the point across without any violence or COVID risks.”
Students were protesting against the government’s cuts to education, as well as changes that would make some arts degrees double in price in an attempt to push more students into STEM degrees and other courses.
While no course is more or less worthy than another, critics say the changes would make it much harder for students to study what they really want to do.
Students from poor families, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students, and students who work or study part-time are set to be the most disproportionately disadvantaged by the changes.
After an excellent speech by a beautiful Honi Soit editor at the NTEU teach our, students gathered and sprinted down Eastern Avenue to avoid police capture pic.twitter.com/EljFwO7gXz
— Honi Soit (@honi_soit) October 14, 2020
The protest was also against Sydney Uni itself, which is laying off staff and casualising many more positions.
NSW Police have not yet confirmed numbers but student leaders estimate around six or seven $1,000 Penalty Infringement Notices were issued to protesters.
They’re now fundraising to pay off all the PINs issued at the demo, as they have already done for over $40,000 worth of fines dished out earlier in the year.
Meanwhile at Sydney Uni: the cops are so anxious to intimidate student protestors they mistakenly read the riot act to this year 12 tour group pic.twitter.com/O4wvAyhf7w
— Democracy is Essential (@DemocracyNsw) October 14, 2020
Despite the cost and the brutality, students say they won’t stop demonstrating against cuts.
“Obviously, it’s not easy, but we think it’s an important cause and that higher education is worth fighting for,” Breen said.
Bhattarai, who was thrown in the gutter while protesting, agrees: “We refuse to be intimidated and will be back out on the streets protesting again soon.”Image: Honi Soit