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‘They attacked us after we packed up’: Calgary students speak out on police brutality

“We cannot allow police impunity to embolden further acts of violence against student encampments”

PolicingSocial Movements

Calgary police wearing protective armour, helmets and round shields respond to a pro-Palestinian encampment at the University of Calgary in Calgary on Thursday, May 9, 2024. Photo supplied by the authors.

On May 9, we joined a group of students and community members to protest the University of Calgary’s complicity in Israel’s genocide in Gaza. Our demands were simple: the university must disclose its investments and divest from companies that are involved in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights.

After hours of peaceful protesting on the University of Calgary campus, Calgary Police arrived with body armour, batons, shields and guns, threatening us with trespass charges. Emboldened by the success of student-led encampments on university campuses across Canada, we insisted on our right to protest. At the same time, this enormous show of force by police made it clear that we would need to make some concessions. Officers told us we could stay as long as we took the tents down. Under duress, this seemed like the only choice we had. We then spent an hour dismantling our encampment, believing this would leave the police with no reason to do us harm.

After all the tents in the encampment had been removed, without provocation, the police launched a sudden and violent attack on what remained of our peaceful assembly. They charged towards us, struck us with batons and shields, and fired pepper balls and grenades at us. They threw protesters, including students, to the ground and beat them severely. Several people sustained concussions. A mother of two students had her rib fractured by police.

Since that night, the Calgary Police Service and Calgary Police Chief Mark Neufeld have repeatedly misled the public about the events of that day. During a Police Commission meeting on May 29, Neufeld claimed he was unaware of any injuries resulting from the police action, despite officers putting two people in ambulances. He repeatedly emphasized that there was no issue with the protest and that the legal problem stemmed from the encampment. However, by the time of the police assault, every tent had already been taken down. He also accused us of instigating the violence, claiming protesters pushed officers and grabbed their shields, forcing them to respond. This is not true. Officers charged us without provocation.

Neufeld has repeated this misinformation to the public, including to the Police Commission. In so doing, he has whitewashed what may be the most severe act of police brutality against peaceful student protesters in the history of this city.

Our encampment did not have to end in violence. Students from other institutions continue to maintain peaceful encampments on campuses across Canada. We cannot allow police impunity to embolden further acts of violence against student encampments. We demand accountability from Chief Neufeld and University of Calgary President Ed McCauley for the inexcusable acts of brutality that took place that night.

There are multiple publicly-available videos showing the truth of what happened, including three live streams that captured most of the incident. Many of these videos are accessible on social media platforms including X (formerly Twitter).

The Calgary Student Movement continues to demand that the University of Calgary divest from companies that are involved in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza, and end their complicity with Israel’s violent settler-colonial regime.

Keegan Colwell is an English student at the University of Calgary and a member of the Calgary Student Movement.

Emily Beckley is a recent graduate of Sociology from Mount Royal University and a member of the Calgary Student Movement.

Léo Hooper is an anthropology student at Mount Royal University and a member of the Calgary Student Movement.

Dania Samih is an undergraduate student at the University of Calgary and a member of the Calgary Student Movement.

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