Students accuse police of unprovoked violence
Students on the streets of Sydney protesting against the possible deregulation of universities have condemned NSW Police for allegedly using violence against them.
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Students have criticised NSW Police for allegedly shoving several students and pushing one to the ground during a protest in Sydney on Wednesday.
However, police say they have not received a complaint from any of the students.
In a rally held as part of a national day of action in capital cities around Australia, students marched down Broadway in Sydney’s CBD to protest against deregulation of university fees and funding cuts to higher education.
A student fell to the ground as protesters scrambled during a protest march on Sydney’s Broadway on Wednesday. Photo: Dylan Lloyd
A large number of police were present, including mounted patrols, general duties officers, and some from the Public Order and Riot Squad.
Dylan Lloyd, 21, a student from the University of New South Wales, said he was marching down the street chanting with around 100 others when one officer approached the group and pushed someone to the ground without warning.
“Everyone was having fun. It was an energetic, fun protest. There were musical chants and we were singing,” Mr Lloyd said.
Officers form a line as students point their fingers and chant ‘shame’. Photo: Dylan Lloyd
“And then suddenly it all went quiet. People started chanting ‘we have the right to demonstrate’. It was very chaotic from there.”
Mr Lloyd said police shoved the protesters onto the footpath instead of asking them to move, then eventually let them back onto the road to finish their march. However, many were “scared and shocked”.
“My mouth was actually hanging open, because it was very unprecedented and came out of nowhere,” he said.
“There was one police officer in particular who came into the crowd and started pushing people and grabbing people. Riot police came in and grabbed him and were yelling at him and pulled him back. One of the riot police started hitting people as well then he was also pulled back by his colleagues and pushed away.
“I’ve been an activist for many years…[this] is the only time I’ve seen police restraining each other. It was very spontaneous and uncalled for. It wasn’t a very big protest. It was very bizarre.”
Video taken by Mr Lloyd and given to Fairfax Media shows a female student falling to the ground as police jostle with students. Later, a separate student appears to flinch when she is pushed aside by the forearm of a general duties officer, who is then pulled back by colleagues.
The students then chant “shame” as they point their fingers at a line of officers.
Police have seen the video but are not investigating the incident.
Some student organisers believe the police presence was bolstered after a group of students chanted and waved signs at Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull ahead of the protest.
Mr Lloyd, who was one of these students, said the demonstration was unrelated to the protest and began entirely unprompted when they saw Mr Turnbull leaving Central Station while campaigning ahead of the federal election.
Sinead Colee, the National President of the National Union of Students, which organised the protest march, said the incident was “unacceptable”.
“The National Union of Students utterly condemns any violence by a law enforcement officers against any students or young people participating in our protests,” Ms Colee said.
“In today’s circumstance a NSW Police officer has been seen physically attacking peaceful protesters without provocation. This is entirely unacceptable behaviour from any adult, let alone an employee of the state.”
In a statement, a NSW Police spokeswoman said officers respect the individual right to protest regardless of political views.
“However, we do not tolerate unlawful behaviour that jeopardises personal safety or poses a threat to the wider community,” the statement said.
“With any given demonstration, police make every effort to engage with respective organisers to ensure their right to lawful protest is met, while minimising disruptions to local residents, businesses and the general public. There is no place for criminal, anti-social, or dangerous behaviour during these events and if people choose to do the wrong thing they are quickly identified and dealt with accordingly.
“Individuals and groups who engage in demonstrations need to consider their own safety and the safety of the community when taking part and having an appropriate police presence helps ensure a peaceful event for everyone involved.”