From the November-December 2020 issue of News & Letters
by Buddy Bell
A viral video taken by a bystander of Nigeria’s Special Anti-Robbery Squad (SARS) showed officers stealing a car from a young man in early October, the 60th anniversary of Nigerian independence. The video propelled youth marches around the country and traffic to the preexisting Twitter hashtag #EndSARS. On Oct. 9, a teenage girl marching in the Lagos suburb of Ikeja held a sign saying, “SARS Kill, SARS Rape, SARS Extort, End SARS Now,” an indictment of the squad’s long-term abuses of youth. For example, Amnesty International documented 82 cases of torture since 2017.
A sit-in protest in another suburb, Lekki, lasted two weeks before a combination of government forces and unidentified goons opened fire on the crowd of mostly young people on Oct. 20, killing 38 of them. DJ Switch is a young Nigerian musician who filmed and instagrammed the massacre in Lekki. She told InStyle magazine: “SARS has been a cancer on the streets of Nigeria, targeting the youth, the poor, and hardworking Nigerians trying to earn a living…. Justice must be served for those who sadly but bravely died in these protests. Our leaders need to be held accountable for corruption and the lack of pretty much everything. If there is no accountability, they keep the oppression going.”
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At least 50 student residential advisors (RAs) at Cornell University boycotted orientation meetings on Aug. 19, protesting the increased workload and work hazards they were expected to face in the COVID-19 era while not gaining a commensurate raise in pay. The administration reached out to negotiate with the students a day later. Another 40 RAs at SUNY Oneonta threatened to strike, but the university sent students home when it went to all-virtual instruction. Then, on Labor Day, more than 100 RAs at the University of Michigan joined with graduate student instructors in a week-long strike for higher pay and access to regular testing for COVID-19. On Sept. 10, hundreds of RAs came to a settlement with administrators at the University of Utah. As one RA told the Salt Lake Tribune: “We’re supposed to check in on students and deliver their mail and so many other duties added this year. We feel overworked and under-supported.”
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Students at Hong Kong Polytechnic University found themselves blocked by metal fences on Nov. 12, which prevented them from hanging banners over the side of a pedestrian bridge. So they used hundreds of padlocks instead, arranging them to spell: “Save the 12,” referring to 12 Hong Kong youth who were abducted from a boat in international waters and are now indefinitely detained in mainland China. The fence was removed within days.