TWO students of the University of the West Indies (UWI), St Augustine campus are now in police custody after they were arrested yesterday for their roles in a heated students’ protest at the campus’ south gate over an increase in assaults and robberies at the university. The confrontation started around 1.45 pm and ended shortly before 4 pm.
The demonstration, which began as a town hall meeting for students of the UWI’s Student Activity Centre sought to address the concerns of the students over a reported lack of security at the campus, descended into chaos when students blocked the gate and resisted campus security, administration officials and police.
Several students expressed their frustration over the crimes said they were disappointed in members of the campus’ administrative staff absence from the meeting, this led the students to leave the meeting and block the gate to express their dissatisfaction.
Close to 500 students formed a human barricade around the gate preventing the passage of vehicles in and out of the compound and despite several attempts by UWI’s campus security to disperse the crowd, they were unsuccessful. At one point a vehicle attempted to leave the campus, by driving up against the students, but were later instructed by security to use another gate as the students refused to disperse.
Officers of the Tunapuna police responded and instructed the students to disperse as their protest was not authorised by campus officials. Later Snr Supt Daniel of the Northern Division and other officers spoke to campus principal Professor Brian Copeland who failed to soothe the students’ tensions. This led to officers attempting to forcibly open the gates, this was met with resistance from the students, which led to a shoving match between officers and the students.
During the melee, one student was brought to the ground and subdued by officers, as other students continued to resist the officers and even attempted to pull the officers off the student.
This prompted police to subdue and detain another student resulting in deputy campus principal professor Indar Ramnarine intervening and attempted to defuse the situation with the officers, however he too was pushed back and warned that he would be arrested for obstructing a police officer if he continued. Even as officers attempted to leave with the students, a supporter opened the door to the police vehicle.
Professor Copeland instructed students to gather at the JFK Quadrangle to address their concerns, saying while the arrest of the students was unfortunate, he warned them that an uncontrolled demonstration could have such effects.
“I am not sure what the two men were charged with but I am informed that they were both taken to the St Joseph and Tunapuna police stations. My jurisdiction stops at the gate, we are trying to treat with the matter, in fact our representatives are going down there to ensure our students are done well by.
“Before that happened the police came to me and said they (the students) were in the road and blocking traffic.
“That was the message I gave the President of the Guild. It is a consequence of being in the road.” During yesterday’s post-Cabinet press briefing National Security Minister Stuart Young said while he was not aware of the details behind the protest and the security at the campus, he said there was need to address the situation but promised to support the university’s security.
In a press release yesterday Police Commissioner Gary Griffith said while he expressed empathy with frustrated groups, he reminded the public that protest action should be done within the law.