Over 20 police and security guards raid SCA occupation

Over 20 police and security guards raid SCA occupation

Photo source: Thandi Bethune

Jemima Wilson reports

Police and security guards have forcibly entered the occupation headquarters at the Sydney College of the Arts, physically escorting one protester and dismantling the space at 6.45 am this morning.

Protesters had been occupying the administration buildings at SCA for 65 days prior to their removal this morning.

Since July, SCA students, alumni, and supporters have been protesting a restructure that would have seen SCA merged with UNSW.

The occupation was protesting the university’s current strategic plan which proposes a move to the Camperdown campus, with an uncertain future for several studio streams and staff cuts.

The occupation has been run through a roster system, and as such only two occupiers were holding the space. According to the protesters, police and security presence was disproportionate and therefore intimidating.

Early this morning Che Baines, an occupier and former Arts student “started hearing banging at the doors – specifically the front doors.”

“Around 15 police officers officers and 20 security guards came in yelling that the occupation was over, that we were trespassing and to not question them,” Baines said.

The two occupiers were told not to argue, with police yelling that they had “30 seconds to comply otherwise disciplinary action would be taken.”

Baines addressed the proportion of police to protesters, reassuring police that “it’s just us – please calm down”.

Without time to get shoes or socks one protester was physically “escorted out of the building … with about 5 (officers) on her, holding her arms and pushing her from behind.”

The duration of the occupation had meant occupiers kept valuables and other vital items with them in the office.

“I was trying to get my medications that I need in the morning and I had to argue and fight with them to let me get them”.

Baines expressed concern over a disregard for property and the occupiers, especially given that they were compliant and outnumbered.

“We weren’t even allowed to stay on the grass in front of the space…we had to cross the road and then they started just carrying out all our stuff.”

The occupier’s personal belongings, campaign material and supplies were dumped on the kerb after removal. Photo source: Thandi Bethune

It wasn’t only the occupation that was dismantled, as Security entered the campus and began removing an signs of protest.

“A security guard went into the campus … ripping down all of the campaign posters and any art that related to the campaign – even posters unrelated to the campaign.”

The raid comes after occupiers dropped a huge banner from the Quadrangle at Camperdown campus on the 6th and 7th of October, then camped out on the iconic lawns overnight. The camp out was also forcibly removed by security and police. The following week an approved installation of SCA student posters for Verge Festival was removed and damaged by security.

Baines said this morning’s raid seemed unprompted, although protesters did witness police driving by the occupation in the last week, “taking pictures and testing the locks”.

“The door at the front – it’s now in half. It shows that the uni will do whatever they can to intimidate students into not protesting”.

Pictures sourced show that as well as heavy security presence, there was a full police custody unit present at the campus.

Police presence remained high despite only 2 occupiers. Photo source: Rachel Evans

The University has since emailed a statement to students, confirming that the occupation has ended and citing ongoing “distress at the occupation and … impact on studies”. Staff have also said to have been finding “the situation stressful and unpleasant”.

The statement threatens that the University has the “right to exclude anyone who has been party to the occupation from its campuses,” but goes on to reassure students that they “chosen not to do so at this stage”.

Any further occupation attempts are likely to be met with “disciplinary procedures”. It is unclear whether this extends to different forms of protest.

The ongoing occupation has been used as central organising space by the group of protesters, who are demanding that SCA stay at Callan Park. Despite some divisive actions, the ongoing occupation has seen a large outpouring of support from the local community and Unions.

Baines said that that despite being shaken, energy amongst the group remains high, with a speakout planned for this afternoon in memory of the occupation.

“This is now time to regroup, and refocus. The occupation was such a show of strength and endurance”.

Negotiations regarding the strategic plan and the proposed move to Camperdown/Darlington continue between staff, students, unions and university management.