Students say police used unnecessary force to arrest three members of Wollongong University’s queer collective staging a sit-in protest to demand an on-campus queer space.
One male and two female students had been occupying a function room in the UniCentre Building for 47 hours when police raided the room and charged them with trespass.
One protester said 19 police were involved in the exercise, 10 of whom were dressed in riot gear with shields and helmets.
They sent 19 policemen to arrest three people -“ and they knew how many of us there were, said Annaliese Constable, a member of the queer collective Allsorts.
They decided storming the room with riot police, who had shields and helmets and guns, was an appropriate form of action.
A police spokesperson said four specialist police from the Operations Support Group were sent in because they’re trained to manage these events to minimise the potential risk of injury to both police and protesters.
The spokesperson said there were also two police rescue operators and a small number of uniformed police.
The sit-in began last Thursday afternoon with 16 members of Allsorts refusing to leave until the university addressed an increase in homophobic behaviour on campus.
Constable, 23, said the group had been trying to negotiate with the university for three years to get a new queer safe space on campus because the space we are currently housed in floods when it rains and is situated off-campus in a suburb where there’s no security.
She said people had been verbally abused and threatened making their way to and from the premises. One man had threatened to burn a female student to death in the building.
Queer students had also experienced unprecedented levels of homophobia during the university’s sexuality week last week, Constable said. Seven of the group’s 14 banners were stolen, while petitions and posters were defaced with comments such as die fags.
Constable said the students heard nothing from university officials during the sit-in until the arrival of police on Saturday, when there were just three protesters left.
A statement from the university’s acting vice-principal, Chris Grange, said police removed the students because of a deteriorating situation with hygiene in the area they were occupying.
If the students wish to negotiate this matter then they should follow the proper procedure of raising their concerns through the Student Representative Council, Grange said.
Constable said Allsorts has been requesting a room for three years. The comments about hygiene were hilarious, she said, as it was the university who wouldn’t allow the protesters to empty their toilet bucket.
The three students will appear before Wollongong Local Court on 29 September.