Pushing at the gate

File photo: Police push against the UWI south gate as students push back in an attempt to keep the gate closed in October.
File photo: Police push against the UWI south gate as students push back in an attempt to keep the gate closed in October.

ON Thursday afternoon last week, hundreds of students at UWI gathered for a town hall meeting at the Student Activity Centre to discuss security failures on campus. No representatives of campus administration attended the meeting, which angered students who formed human protest blockade of the South Gate of the campus.

Officers called to break up a human barricade of the entrance to the university proved aggressive in their handling of the young people and efforts to open the gate ended up in pushing and shoving by officers and angry students and the arrest of two young men by officers.

It was a shocking display of force by officers who appeared to go directly to a forceful resolution of the problem, manhandling teenagers while armed with pistols and assault rifles. The Police Complaints Authority has called for witnesses to the incident as part of its investigation of the unlawful protest.

It was only after this shameful display on all sides that Campus Principal Professor Brian Copeland met with the group at the JFK Quadrangle to address their concerns.

Tertiary level students should have been better equipped as a group to craft a more effective articulation of their concerns, which are legitimate and based on multiple reports of criminal acts, assaults and robberies among them on what they described as a poorly policed campus.

The meeting was called after a WhatsApp voice note was circulated last Wednesday detailing the daylight robbery and rape of a second-year student in the female locker room near the Student Activity Centre. Over the last four weeks, UWI's St Augustine Guild claims that there have been at least six reported robberies at gunpoint on the campus. Concerns about security in the wake of robberies were also raised in October 2017.

Given the severity of these claims and the significant responsibility vested in the university's leadership, it's surprising that its executive had not publicly appointed a team to investigate the matter and more important, to liaise with the guild on solutions. Into this bubbling miasma of anger and executive diffidence came SUVs of police officers who probably saw no difference between the shouting students and other lawbreakers who block the road to get the attention.

This wasn't a job for armed police officers, it was a task for a properly enabled and trained campus security force who proved as unable to manage angry students as they have been at policing the grounds under their purview.

In the wake of the demonstration, UWI has promised new security measures.

It took students pushing at a gate and armed officers pushing back to finally move UWI's management to do what reports of robberies on the campus should have moved them to do in the first place.


"Pushing at the gate"

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