I'm lucky, I was allowed to take a pen and paper and my homework into my cell. Unlike many of my friends, I didn't have my phone taken as "evidence". Neither was I beaten up, called a "right vile cunt" or told by a police officer that, if he had it his way, I'd be dead, as others allege happened to them. I did, however, spend 12 hours in custody for peacefully attending a protest against the presence of uninvited police officers on university campuses.
On Thursday 5 December, I was arrested on suspicion of breach of the peace - later changed to affray - an hour after I was kettled against the glass wall of Euston station on Gower Street with fourteen others. So indiscriminate were the thirty-six arrests that night, that registered press, legal observers and a passer-by, who had been trying to reach University College Hospital, were among those detained.
While kettled, I watched police officers shove and violently arrest a man on crutches. On Wednesday night, too, I witnessed students arrested with unnecessary brutality, following the forceful eviction of fifty people from an occupation of Senate House. One SOAS student was concussed by police. A video shows another student being punched by an officer. Dozens more were pushed aside, thrown to the ground, or pulled by their hair.
Wednesday's occupation was peaceful on the part of students, and its demands were reasonable. Occupiers asked the University of London to oppose the sell off of student debt, guarantee the continuance of University of London Union (ULU) as a democratic institution with sabbatical officers, recognise the rights of outsourced workers and limit rent in halls of residence to below the average student loan amount. But, rather than negotiating with its students and supporting those who were intimidated, injured and arrested by police, University of London management labelled the actions of protesters at Senate House "violent and intimidating" and spent the week colluding with police to forcefully suppress activism. The University of London has now obtained an injunction, banning protest on central London campuses until June.
Despite pressure from students and groups like University and College Union and Unison, individual colleges are yet to challenge this injunction or express support for their students. Instead, students have supported each other and coordinated themselves largely through ULU. London Student - ULU's newspaper - has also proved its worth this week, reporting and tweeting events quicker than other press (despite being impeded by the arrest of its editor, Oscar Webb, on Thursday night).
As the only student-elected body representing the entire University of London, ULU has always been crucial to supporting and protecting the interests of students in London. However, as University of London management has revealed an increasingly draconian bent, demonstrated an unwillingness to negotiate with its students and failed to support them, ULU has become more important; closing ULU at a time like this will leave students vulnerable and their interests dangerously unprotected.
On Thursday night I was kettled, cuffed, finger-printed, DNA swabbed and left unadvised in a cell for six hours because the police believed it was appropriate to arrest me for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. My university is yet to comment on this.
ULU, on the other hand, helped to coordinate the twenty people who were waiting outside Croydon Police Station to provide me and other arrestees with practical and emotional support when we were released on police bail just before dawn on Friday morning. An emergency meeting held at ULU on Thursday night also sent delegations of students to Sutton and Bromley Police Stations so that everybody arrested would be met on release.
The University of London needs to start supporting its students and protecting their interests. However, the trajectory of events last week demonstrates that management are unwilling to do this. Until this changes we need our union to stay open, so that we can support each other and campaign to protect students' interests ourselves.