On 11 February, there was a heightened police presence on campus. On the ground floor of the Students’ Union, officers swarmed two Romanian women accused of stealing phones from students at the Denning Learning Café. They conducted routine immigration checks but it is unclear what happened to them afterwards.
As a result, I was left with a few questions: Were these women operating under another person’s orders? Were they here legally? Were they trafficked into the UK? Will they be made to languish in immigration detention? Why did so many officers need to be present to arrest two women? How many officers exactly were present?
LSE’s silence on this happening is frightening. Police presence on campus makes me feel incredibly uneasy, not because I’ve done anything wrong but because the Metropolitan Police Service (MPS) is institutionally racist. It uses disproportionate amounts of force to arrest Black people; the BBC reports “the use of force was equivalent to once for every 50 Black people in Greater London and once for every 200 of the white population.” Increasingly, MPS is incorporating facial recognition technology that has problems telling people of colour apart, and this technology means that ethnic minorities are 100 times more likely to be misidentified. In London, there has been a fivefold increase in the use of stop and search. StopWatch, an NGO dedicated to police oversight, says “Black men are eight or nine times more likely, nationally, to be stopped than their white counterparts” despite the fact that Black people are less likely to have illegal substances.
Increased police presence is also an extension of the Home Office’s ‘hostile environment’ for migrants. If you’re an international student, you’re probably familiar with this message:
“Satisfactory attendance is a requirement of a Tier 4 visa; if you hold a Tier 4 visa and continue to be absent from your scheduled classes without keeping your department informed of your circumstances, the School will have to report this to the Home Office. This could lead to the withdrawal of your sponsorship and deregistration. The Home Office would then curtail your visa, and you would be required to leave the UK within 60 days.”
These messages are automated, so even if you do inform your department of your circumstances you’ll still receive increasingly hostile emails. People from certain countries, like China, Russia, and Brazil, are also required to register with the police upon their arrival in the United Kingdom. A lack of clarity continues whereby they never tell you why you need to register with the police, only that you have to because failure to register could mean a £5,000 fine, a six-month prison sentence, or both. The list of nationalities that need to register seems arbitrary; there’s no publicly available information on how the list is chosen.
LSE has given us a constant barrage of updates on the status of coronavirus on campus. The coronavirus is far less contagious and far less deadly than the flu, which can cause as many as 13,000 deaths annually. On the other hand, the increased police presence on campus has gone by without a word. Again, this is deeply unsettling for significant portions of LSE’s population: people of colour and international students. Why is LSE choosing to leave us in the dark?