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Colloquium discusses student movements and the police

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Police repression and student movements were the topics at this year’s first graduate colloquium in the Department of Sociology. Université du Québec a Montréal (UQAM) Political Science professor Francis Dupuis-Déri, discussed the relation between the police, student movements, and ideological considerations.

The question session that followed alluded to attitudes and roles of university administrations, police forces, professors, and student bodies at McGill, UQAM, and elsewhere.

According to Dupuis-Déri, the student movement incurs the strongest police crackdown. “In Quebec, in the last 20 years, there have been at least 1,000 arrests targeting the student movement, making, I believe, the student movement the most repressed,” he said.

Dupuis-Déri claimed that the police apparatus and its ideological base tend to fall along specific class lines. “As a student, what you are supposed to do at university is to study, to get a job. In the eye of the cops, you are privileged. The cop is a worker,” he explained.

What makes a “legitimate” protestor in the eyes of the police was one of the questions Dupuis-Déri sought to address.

“In a nutshell, a ‘legitimate’ protestor is a white, employed, middle-class father,” he argued.

Reasons for this include the political perception of the average police officer, demographics amongst the police forces, as well as the simple degree to which an officer identifies with the participants of a demonstration.

Another topic discussed was the idea of university campuses as unique sites of political expression with some degree of intellectual immunity, acting as sanctuary from the use of corporate heavy-handedness and police violence. In Greece, for instance, police are not allowed to even set foot upon a university campus. The incident of riot police on McGill’s campus on November 10 was raised.

One student at the colloquium shared the following anecdote: “A friend of mine who was pepper sprayed on November 10[at McGill] asked the police officer: ‘Hey, aren’t you supposed to be protecting humans and students?’ The police officer replied, ‘Yeah, but also private property’.”

Much of the subsequent discussion concerned the role of academic literature to further understanding of student movements, interaction between the police and university administrations, and how to implement change within the police institution.