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City and Islington College student protest
City and Islington College student protestVia Instagram/@nostopandsearchcandi

London students are staging mass walk-outs over draconian security checks

Hundreds of students took to the streets to protest oppressive new on-campus security checks

On Monday (March 21), up to 200 students walked out of City and Islington College in north London, to protest new security checks that have been compared to stop and search measures enforced by police. Video shared on social media shows demonstrators filling the street outside the sixth form college, holding placards that urge authorities to “stop searching minors” and chanting: “Stop the search.”

Weeks earlier, students arrived at the sixth form college as they would on any other morning, only to be met with security staff and airport-style metal detectors. Reportedly, students were made to queue before entering the building, and one in ten was selected to be physically searched by staff. At least one Black student is said to have had scissors confiscated, while multiple students were suspended for refusing to cooperate. 

“We weren’t informed of any event whatsoever, so we went to college like it was a normal day,” one student, who requested to remain anonymous, tells Dazed of the mass walk-out. “I was just heading to class… when I saw a group of people at the college gates. When I came closer, I could hear people chanting ‘stop the search’. As it continued the police arrived and spoke to the headteacher. The police didn’t tell us to back away or anything but acted as a barrier to prevent people getting on the road.”

Prior to the introduction of the new policy, management at the college didn’t make any announcements to students or their parents, but responded to Monday’s demonstration in a public statement. “The students who are protesting have every right to do so,” it said. “But we’re concerned that some people are describing the checks as ‘stop and search’, when that isn’t correct at all.”

Stop and search policies – which grant police the power to search citizens if they’re deemed to have “reasonable grounds” – have often been criticised for disproportionately targeting Black citizens. According to government data, there were just six stop-and-searches for every 1,000 white people between April 2019 and March 2020, compared with 54 for every 1,000 Black people.

Defending the new checks, the college also cites London’s rise in knife crime, noting that young people attending schools in its parent group, the Capital City College Group, have been injured or killed in knife-related incidents. It’s worth noting, however, that reports have suggested a focus on policies such as stop and search – as opposed to community policing and targeting high-profile criminals – have contributed to this rise, rather than moving knife crime rates in the right direction.

City and Islington College claims that its new protocol is different to the controversial police powers because individuals are selected at random to be searched, and checks are carried out in private. As many have pointed out on social media, however, this doesn’t negate the fact that students are being treated as potential criminals, or the possibility of racial bias influencing the behaviour of security staff.

These issues are only amplified by the recent review published by City & Hackney Safeguarding Children Partnership, which revealed that a Black teenage girl – referred to as ‘Child Q’ – was forcibly strip-searched by two female police officers in 2020, after teachers wrongly presumed she possessed drugs because she “smelled of cannabis”. 

Describing the aims of Monday’s protest, the student from City and Islington College tells Dazed: “It’s to prevent the stop and searches being taken too far, like the one in Hackney.”

Another student walkout is planned to take place next Thursday (March 31). “Our aim is to increase communication between us and management, ensure that we are heard, and are able to give our opinions on what security measures should be put in place,” say the organisers. Take a look at the announcement below.