The three students featured in this article have chosen to use pseudonyms to prevent their names from being linked to data kept on file by the police. Their names are known to the editors.
Second-year student Pjotr was in the Sanders Building from 11.00 a.m. “I could already see a couple of police officers standing in front of the building when I turned up. That unsettled me a little.” According to him, the atmosphere was easy-going throughout the day. “We had some lectures and discussions, and plenty of breakout areas where you could take part in a workshop or activity, for instance. Everyone was in good spirits and getting on with things.”
Second-year student Maria was in one of the breakout areas at around six o’clock. She had planned to give a reading from a text on community healthcare, but was prevented from this by the police raid. “A couple of people were preparing the scheduled General Assembly at that point. I was waiting for my soup, which had just been brought in by the Sustainability Hub, and coffee was being made. That was when I saw the riot police officers on the stairs, above the hall of the Sanders Building,” she recalls. “It scared me. We were gradually surrounded by a lot of police. I thought: oh my God, why are they here? Weren’t we supposed to be talking with the Executive Board?”
Sanders building occupation: easy-going atmosphere, no-show from Executive Board, riot police on the scene
OccupyEUR, the group of staff and students occupying the Sanders Building, had the coffee…
Confusion is the perfect word to describe the situation, adds second-year student Antonio. Antonio was talking with some fellow students when the police officers surrounded the hall. Charlie, spokesperson for OccupyEUR, heard from a university spokesperson that the meeting with the Executive Board was not going to go ahead. An EUR security guard subsequently warned the students that they had to leave. But before Charlie could discuss matters with the demonstrators, the riot police officers had already encircled them. “Charlie then told everyone that they’d have to decide for themselves whether they wanted to leave, as there was a chance we’d be arrested if we stayed,” says Antonio.
Right to protest
Maria was unsure what she should do. “I actually wanted to leave, because I was getting so stressed and overwhelmed,” she says. “I asked a fellow student whether she was going to leave, but she said: ‘As students, we have every right to protest. It’s outrageous that the university is calling in the riot police as though we’re all a bunch of criminals.’ She was right about that, I thought. So I ended up staying too.”
In contrast to Maria, Antonio was resolute about staying. “I was so angry that the EUR had deceived us. The Executive Board said it was willing to talk with us but then never showed up.” Their voice is still quivering with emotion as they explain. “I wasn’t going to be sent away. We hadn’t done anything wrong! The only thing we want is to make the university and the world a better place.”
Sitting arm in arm
The ten people who remained sat arm in arm on the ground. They sang to keep their morale up. “I found the riot police officers intimidating. I could only see their eyes. They were in full gear, as if they were going to war,” Maria recalls. The riot police officers pulled the students apart. “They twisted the fingers of the person to my left and pushed me against the person to my right, to make it easier to prise us apart.”
Pjotr was unable to breathe when an officer dragged him away by his coat. “I was trying to turn round so I wouldn’t choke, but they saw that as an act of resistance. One officer pulled my hair to keep my head up. He said: ‘Any more resistance and you’ll be in serious trouble’.”
According to a spokesperson for the Rotterdam Police, it is permissible to use ‘appropriate force’ to bring in arrested students. “We have full confidence that the officers acted as the circumstances required,” says the spokesperson.
Antonio let their body sag as the riot police officers dragged them out. Students were standing outside to show the demonstrators their support. “That was really great to see,” says Antonio. “It gave me the sense that we weren’t on our own.” The students were carted off in various police vehicles. Two busses were waiting on the edge of the campus, next to Woudestein tram stop. “Maybe they thought they’d need to arrest more people,” Antonio reflects. Once in the bus, the students felt gutted. “I shed a tear because I was so angry,” Antonio admits. “And I was shaking with stress,” says Maria.
Confusing conversations between police officers and Dutch-speaking students ensued. “I don’t speak a word of Dutch, so our fellow students had to explain what they were talking about. And each time the story changed,” says Maria. Pjotr, who does speak Dutch, confirms Maria’s account. He says the officers made the arrested students an offer: if they waived their right to a solicitor, then they’d be released within quarter of an hour, without being presented to the assistant district attorney. “The only thing we’d need to do would be to prove our identity and allow the police to take photos and fingerprints at the station,” says Pjotr. “We accepted that deal, but with hindsight we shouldn’t have, because the offer kept changing. Initially, the agreement was that we wouldn’t have to be presented to the assistant district attorney, but then they said we still would.” Maria: “Eventually we no longer had a clue as to what the agreement was.”
Executive Board expresses regret for police intervention occupation
The Executive Board has apologised for the police intervention in ending the occupation…
When someone is arrested and taken to the police station, the arrested person is brought before an assistant public prosecutor, who assesses the lawfulness of the arrest and decides whether the suspect should to be held as part of an investigation or released. According to the spokesperson for the Rotterdam Police, no ‘deal’ was offered and the students were not encouraged to waive their rights. “However, cooperation does expedite the process,” says the spokesperson.
The students sang during the bus ride to the police station in Capelle aan den IJssel. “It was a form of emotional release,” explains Pjotr. “We had to make the best of a bad situation,” laughs Antonio. Once at the police station, the students were questioned one by one. Pjotr had to have his photo and fingerprints taken. “Obviously my fingers were caked in super glue and glitter. They tried all sorts of things to get the glue and glitter off, but in vain. I ended up having to scrape my fingers with a knife myself.”
‘The CvB chooses violence against students: what does that teach us?’
"A shocking violation of the right of students and employees to protest", is how Jess…
Antonio’s and Maria’s fingers were covered in glue and glitter too. “They took my photo but not my fingerprints,” says Maria. “I think they couldn’t be bothered any more to spend hours scraping glitter off of our fingers.” The police did search their bags, though. “But the only thing they found was an anonymous public transport card,” says Antonio. After two hours in a cell, the students were released from the police station.
The police confirm that the identity of some students could not be established. “They had too much glue on their fingers, which made it impossible to take fingerprints. Officers did not have the right resources at their disposal at the time to get the glue off their fingers,” says the spokesperson.
Pjotr’s details are now on file with the police, but he will not be fined for not having any ID on him. “That’s also part of the deal. I won’t be fined for not providing proof of my identity. I still have a lot of questions about how we were treated differently. For example, Antonio and Maria didn’t identify themselves at all, and no consequences are attached to that,” says Pjotr.
The police say that all students were dealt with ‘equitably and appropriately under the circumstances’. “They were released because they had only committed a minor offence,” says the spokesperson. No further action will be taken against the students.
‘I was hoping the Executive Board would come and speak with the campaigners over a bowl of soup’
Several of the people there attested that the staff and students from OccupyEUR did not…
The evening still haunts Maria. “I couldn’t believe that the EUR would call the police in on us. This has never happened at other universities where End Fossil protests have been held,” she adds. “I’m afraid to set foot on campus again and still get the shakes when I see police officers on the street. I’ve talked about it with my therapist. I hope I’ll be OK.”
What have they learned from this campaign? Pjotr: “That the EUR is repressive and in dire need of change!”