An estimated 5,000 students from Manchester’s universities and colleges marched through the city centre last week. Lecturers, parents, and local politicians joined students in bringing Oxford Road to a standstill.
The protests remained peaceful until later in the day, when police were accused of using excessive force after rushing non-violent students on horseback and manhandling students without warning.
The organised event on Wednesday 24th November was part of a National Day of Action, which saw an estimated 130,000 students protesting across the country, with 10,000 marching in London alone.
University of Manchester students gathered outside University Place before marching down the middle of Oxford road and stopping the flow of traffic. Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) students joined the march as the two groups met near All Saints Park and then marched to Castlefield with a police escort.
Greater Manchester Police controlled the event on foot and by horse and although there was no violence reported, four arrests were made during the protests in the city centre.
A man and a woman were arrested for a public order offence, one man was arrested for obstructing a police officer and another man was arrested for failing to remove his face covering. The march was also monitored by a helicopter, which prompted cheers from the protestors.
Emma Kerry, UMSU Women’s Officer, said: “This is an event where students have taken democracy back into their own hands. Our students peacefully protested throughout the day, they have shown they believe peaceful protest is the best way to get their voices heard.”
“Today isn’t going to achieve shit all, but it’s fun,” said Charlotte Peirs, 18, a MMU student.
“I’m here today because I don’t want them to take away my EMA and raise university fees, because without that money, I wont be able to get an education,” said Erin Swift, 16, Xavarian college student.
The march continued through Manchester city centre, towards Castlefield where organisers had arranged for speakers to talk to the 3,000 strong crowd. As protesters reached the Museum of Science and Industry (MOSI), up to 500 protestors broke away through police barriers and marched to Manchester Town Hall.
The police seemed to lose control of the marching students at this point, as larger numbers of police moved to keep the remaining students at Castlefield. The students who marched to Town Hall found the front entrance blocked with approximately 20 police officers guarding the door. The students were then joined by polices on horses in an attempt to control the crowd.
Younger protestors climbed a portacabin outside the town hall, climbing poles and trees, and chanted to the crowd. Police made arrests outside the town hall, as the remaining protestors made their way from Castlefield to join those who had broken away.
Samia Yasmin, a student at the University of Manchester, was among the students at Castlefield: “They seated everyone in the open arena at Castlefield and were telling all of us to sit down. But the majority of people were really unhappy with what was happening. I came to stand up and march, not to sit down. Our intention was to go to the town hall, and that’s what we did.”
However, the peaceful protest was marred by police violence as it neared the end of the day. After the march back from the city centre, students were forcefully removed from a sit-in protest on Oxford Road, and a number of students were arrested for obstructing the road.
The University of Manchester Students’ Union (UMSU) Welfare Officer, Hannah Paterson, expressed shock at the escalating violence: “We worked closely with the police throughout the planning and on the day, however, we were shocked by their violent tactics and appalled that they knowingly charged horses into a crowd of peaceful students, some of whom were as young as 12 and 13.”
A statement released by GMP stated: “Our operation allowed around 3,000 people to march to the city centre, make their legitimate protest, and return to the university area.
“There were a small number of arrests, 17 in total, but they were mainly for obstructing the police and the highway and most were dealt swiftly by cautions or fixed penalty notices.”
GMP also released a statement from Assistant Chief Constable Garry Shewan stating: “I am delighted to say that today’s protests have been on the whole peaceful. GMP is committed to facilitating peaceful demonstrations and ensuring minimal disruption while protecting the local community.
“Today’s events demonstrate what can be achieved when police, universities and protestors talk to each other with that aim in mind.”
However, the police tactics were labelled “heavy-handed” as force was utilised by police officers on foot and on horseback on students.
Emma Kerry, UMSU Women’s Officer, said, “Generally, the police were peaceful until the end of the march, at which point they seemed violent and aggressive. I personally witnessed incidents that I would class as violent. We are currently looking for anyone who has experienced or seen police violence to come and talk to us in the Union.
“We are collecting all the information together, and depending on the information we may be lodging a formal complaint,” added Kerry.
As the day of protest neared its end, up to 30 students also occupied the University of Manchester Roscoe Building. A statement during the occupation, which read: “We the students and residents of Manchester are occupying the University of Manchester’s Roscoe building Lecture Theatre B as a peaceful protest against the proposed increases to the cost of attending University as proposed by the Coalition government.
“We therefore call upon the management of the University of Manchester to release a statement condemning the proposed increases in fees and call upon our lecturers to sign the statement of support for the Millbank protestors.”
The group criticised the actions of the police: “We condemn the heavy-handed approach the Greater Manchester Police Force have taken in their handling of the entirely peaceful protest held on Oxford Road and at Whitworth Park. We call for there to be no repercussions, either from the University or from the Police, for those who have engaged in protest actions against the fees.”
As The Mancunion went to press, students were still occupying the Roscoe Building.
Pockets of violence also took place on Wednesday night in Trafalgar Square, London. Demonstrators broke windows of buses and offices smashed, including the Treasury.
An unattended police van was vandalised during the London protest. A group of young students then surrounded the van, preventing it from being further damaged.
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