Footage has emerged of a teenage boy being choked by police during a vaccine justice protest outside AstraZeneca’s offices in Cambridge on Tuesday. Witnesses say he was one of several protestors injured after police stormed into the crowd, who until then had been listening to speeches, drumming and chanting.

The protest was held on the day that AstraZeneca’s annual general meeting voted on whether to begin profiting from their COVID-19 vaccine, with campaigners demanding a ‘People’s Vaccine’ including patent waivers and technology sharing. Meanwhile, a small group were peacefully blockading the front doors of the building, and some had scaled the porch in order to display a banner.

One speaker, Professor Priyamvada Gopal of the University of Cambridge, described the protest prior to the police incursion:

“This was one of the most impressive and constructive protests I have attended.  It consisted of people sitting or standing in socially distanced ways, holding placards, listening to many thoughtful speeches and occasionally playing a little music or drums. It is deeply concerning that Cambridge police thought it appropriate to rough up young people calling conscientiously and with moral force on their side for a universally available vaccine.”

As the peaceful blockade came to an end, a large number of police stormed into the courtyard and began to engage aggressively with protestors in an attempt to make arrests – the provocation for which is unclear. One person was manhandled to the ground, while another was subjected to ‘pain and compliance’ techniques. The latter said of the incident: “I tried to move away but the officer kept bending back my thumb till I thought it might break, before he eventually let go. I thought I might have to go to A&E.” 

During this, footage shows a 17-year-old being approached by a police officer, who appears to shove and choke him. An eyewitness said: “I know the look of adrenaline-fuelled anger, and it was all across the face of the police officer just before he lunged at the young man’s throat.”  The teenager was later arrested and charged for assaulting a police officer, despite the footage clearly showing police violence aimed at the protester.

This is the latest in a series of controversies involving Cambridgeshire Police. In July 2020, it was revealed that officers were making racist remarks in a group chat, while more recently a social media post about police harassing unhoused people in Cambridge city centre provoked a significant online backlash. Recent figures have shown that none of the 132 Cambridgeshire officers investigated for racial misconduct between 2015 and 2020 faced disciplinary action.

This report was written for the Netpol blog by the Coalition for Vaccine Justice, a Cambridge-based collective of activists from grassroots organisations calling for an end to profits from COVID-19 vaccines, and the waiving of intellectual property on vaccines, to make vaccines accessible and affordable to those in urgent need.

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