Chalk and Protest

I was sure I’d finished posting my work for February on My London Dairy a couple of weeks ago, and was congratulating myself on being almost up to date. Then, a few days ago I found that although I’d published a few things from March, there were still a couple of things from the last day of the month, Feb 28, that I’d somehow neglected.

Students chalk on the pavement at the start of the student protest

One has come back into the news – and even at last made the mainstream – in the past few days. Last July the woman speaking in the picture below was arrested for chalking slogans about the 3Cosas campaign cleaners’ struggle for decent pay and conditions across a foundation stone at the Senate House. I wasn’t there when Konstancja (Koshka) Duff did this, nor when she was arrested with unnecessary force later, and charged, following pressure from the University for her to be charged. In the picture I took the following day when she spoke at the 3Cosas protest at Senate House, signs of her beating by the police were clearly visible.

A bruised Koshka Duff speaks at the 3 Cosas protest she was promoting a day after her arrest

The caption I wrote in July was “They claimed chalk caused damage and was expensive to remove. I find a damp cloth works well“.

A couple of days before the protest at the end of February her case finally came to court. The police, having mistreated her on arrest adopted what appears to be their normal tactic of charging her with assaulting the police officer and special constable involved, but fortunately for her video and photographic evidence showed that the police accounts were not not consistent with events. The judge said that one had “exaggerated her evidence” and the other had clearly not been in a position to see what he had described in court, having been behind the van door, and dismissed that charge.

Of course there is no chance that the officer who assaulted her will ever be charged with that crime, despite many witnesses and video evidence, nor that either will be charged with perjury for lying under oath in court.

Although the university authorities now deny it, there can also be no doubt that the arrest and prosecution only occurred because of pressure from the University of London’s deputy director of property, Paul Nicholson-Lewis, who, according to police evidence at the trial was “very keen to press charges”.

Although the major charge of assaulting a police officer was thrown out, Koshka Duff was still treated very harshly by the court, with the judge in a highly curious ruling reported in London Student, rejecting Duff’s claim that she had chalked on the stone to advertise the following day’s 3 Cosas protest and finding her guilty of criminal damage, ordering that she pay £810 to cover the cost of repairs to the stone and £200 towards prosecution costs. You can donate to the Chalk Fund to help her pay the fine.

The case made the news again after an open letter signed by 49 academics mainly from London University colleges to the university gave advice that a damp cloth could be used to remove chalk and helpfully enclosed several cloths for future use. The high cost of cleaning – the £810 charged to the student – appears largely to be because the unnecessary use of high pressure hydrocleaning damaged the gold lettering which had to be replaced.

So the protest against the University Vice-Chancellor began with some highly symbolic chalking on the pavement, demanding that he resign.  Not just over the chalking affair, but because of the increasing bringing in of police onto the campus, over his decision to close the student union, his failure ensure that outsourced staff working on the site are given decent conditions and more.

It took place very quickly and it wasn’t easy to find a good angle to photograph. I also wanted to make what they were writing visible in the images, which meant photographing as they finished it.

Students protest outside the Senate House

Students protested outside Senate House, and the gates at its base were locked. Someone opened a fire exist and they went inside to protest, hoping to find the meeting of Vice-Chancellors, but it appeared to have been moved elsewhere.

Students protest inside the Senate House

They were careful not to cause damage and clearly were not intending to occupy which would have been in defiance of a High Court injunction obtained by the University management against its own students.  I went outside as some students climbed out onto a balcony and watched from outside as they went through an open window into the Vice Chancellor’s offices, where they apparently went through some of the files. But by this time I was elsewhere.

More pictures and about what happened at Students tell Vice Chancellor to Resign.

Elsewhere was a protest against security company G4S outside their offices in Victoria Street, one of a number of protests for International Israeli Apartheid Week. G4S runs a number of prisons in Israel and you can read more at G4S & Israeli Prison Torture.


My London Diary : Buildings of London : River Lea/Lee Valley : London’s Industrial Heritage

All photographs on this and my other sites, unless otherwise stated, are taken by and copyright of Peter Marshall, and are available for reproduction or can be bought as prints.

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