Friday, October 21, 2011

Today I was arrested at Occupy Melbourne

Today I was arrested for participating in a peaceful protest. While doing nothing more confrontational than marching with a group of people up Lonsdale Street, I began to be jostled and pushed by four policeman, each of whom was more than a head higher than myself. They shoved and pressed me, attempting to make me go forward faster than the people standing immediately in front of me. I was worried I would lose my feet as the police had squashed us in so that there was no space to move. Before I could comprehend what was going on, these four huge men had hauled me backwards out of the protest. After walking with the protesters for barely 10 minutes, I – a nice, harmless-looking bespectacled woman, barely 5 foot 3, had been arrested for “breaching the peace”.


Why was I there? Simply because I believe that it is important for people to be able to demonstrate and protest peacefully within public space. I had come down to support protesters who had had this right denied to them this morning. I was there because I was disturbed by what I had seen on the news.


Earlier this afternoon, my girlfriend and I checked Twitter. I was appalled to see the treatment that the Occupy Melbourne protesters had received. Police had forced them out of the space they had been occupying. The tactics chosen were disproportionately brutal. I saw pictures of young, floppy-haired protesters slumped against vans with broken noses. There was a woman being dragged out of the crowd by her hair. All of this police force – reports of bullying phalanxes of navy-uniformed young men advancing on a rag-tag bunch of protesters – was being mobilised against the most innocuous group of people you could possibly imagine.


There are many points on which I differ with the strategies and rhetoric chosen by the Occupy Melbourne protesters. But I still feel that fundamentally, the right to protest and demonstrate is an essential part of our democracy. This is why my girlfriend and I decided to get on a tram and go and add to the numbers of the peaceful group that would be marching in the city. I am not, in other words, a “professional protester”. I am not a hippy who has spent the week sitting in a tent on Swanston Street. I was not seeking out confrontation. I am someone who thinks that the right to demonstrate is important, and so I went to observe what was going on down in the CBD.


I joined the protest at the corner of Swanston and Lonsdale. The group, at times a little confused, began slowly making its way up Lonsdale Street. There was much milling about, but the word from the man with the loud speaker was that we were to head to Trades Hall via Russell Street.


We began walking. Within minutes, a line of police suddenly materialised behind us, dividing us from the larger group of protesters. They were marching with their arms linked, at a pace. I joked to my girlfriend that they seemed to want us to sprint to Trades Hall. Before I was able to comprehend what was going on, the police had advanced so rapidly that I found myself at the back of the group that was marching. They began shoving me.


None of the police who jostled me had visible name tags. All were young men who seemed to enjoy being aggressive. They wore sunglasses and continuously pushed at my shoulders and back, even though I had nowhere to go. I asked them to stop pushing me. They responded by pushing me harder.


All at once, I lost my footing and a number of police – four? five? In the chaos it was hard to tell – dragged me away backwards.


The experience of being hauled away by police was surreal. The closest reference point I have for it is being in a mosh pit as a teenager. Yes that’s right – the ratio of police bodies to my body as I was dragged away was so large that the most accurate way to describe my departure would be to say that I was forcefully crowd-surfed out of the protest.


At first, it all seemed like a bit of a joke. Me? Arrested? For walking along Lonsdale Street in a group, chanting some slogans? In fact, yes, this is behaviour that warrants arrest.


The police doing the job of handling the masses of protesters afterwards were not so frightening. I was led down Lonsdale Street by a matronly woman (well perhaps matronly if you discount the rubber gloves) who wouldn’t have looked out of place in Mount Thomas. Most police seemed exasperated that they had been given this ridiculous task, when they would prefer – as the Constable who held me by the wrist for a while told me – to be out “fighting crime”.


My things were taken, including the clean tissue in my pocket.


I have never been in a police van before. I shared mine with six other women. It was uncannily like being in a sauna – there are bench seats, there is no oxygen, everything is humid, there are no windows. We were driven for twenty minutes, then left for fifty minutes with the van’s engine off, the lights off and the doors closed. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was 45 degrees in there. All of us started to get panicky and anxious. At least two of the other women sitting in the space with me had received blows to the head during proceedings: one had been punched in the face by police earlier that morning, and another woman’s head had collided with the ground as she was being hauled out of the crowd. One woman said that, as she was being dragged away, a male police officer had squeezed and twisted her nipple. Combined with the lack of air and the fact that we had no idea how much longer we would be kept in there, everyone had a hard time keeping panic at bay.


When the door was opened, we were not interviewed or charged. We were let out into the streets of St Kilda. I was disoriented, and managed to take a tram going the wrong way.


It was a strange afternoon. I had hoped, now, to write something longer and more coherent, but I still feel a bit dazed. Above all, what I want to convey is that my experience, though unpleasant, was minimal compared to much of what has happened to many people present at events today. I am still flabbergasted to think that such heavy-handed tactics were applied to a peaceful protest. Above all, I am struck by the fact that the violent, bullying tactics of the police are sanctioned by the authorities. In fact, they were requested. No one within the police force or the government will call any of the aggressive thugs who broke the noses of protesters today to account. Ganging up on people, forcing them into dangerous situations, total inhumanity in the face of hurt and distress – all of this was legitimated by local and state government today.


And all because... what? Because people chose to demonstrate peacefully, out of the belief that they, in our progressive, democratic society, have a right to do so? Is it okay for the police to rough up citizens, just because they make political gestures that are a bit inconvenient?


All I know is that this morning, I felt comfortable and assured in my belief that Australian society allows peaceful protest. Now I am not so sure.

30 comments:

  1. Victoria-Australia's only fascist state. Disgraceful conduct by the Victoria Police. An independent inquiry MUST be made and the police officers, as well as the higher-ups need held to account for their disgraceful conduct.

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  2. Thanks for blogging...I think I must have joined the march at exactly the same place as you and wondered whether I'd be one of those randomly pulled out of the crowd..I wasn't... "This is the Melbourne Shuffle" was my favorite chant at that point...

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  3. This is really scary and I urge you to unite with as many people as you can, family, friends, strangers, work colleagues, the lot. Australia is one of the most dangerous countries in the Western World and we have counter terrorism laws that far exceed the US under Bush's still existent Patriot Act. The essence of Australian society is to keep people isolated, in their work, in their leisure time, and especially through national security. You showed your solidarity at Occupy Melbourne and UNITY is a number one threat to the Australian state. Check out Michael Head - Calling Out The Troops for a brilliant account of our counter terrorism laws. Also, keep in touch with me if you want.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your shocking story. It seems like governments have declared war on democracy, but the revolution has already started.

    I was pushed into a bank branch by the riot police, after I insisted going against the pushing police barrier on Swanston Street. I knew about the eviction, but didn't expect that kind of uncivilised behaviour.

    The only thing which seems common in the Occupy Movement is the commitment to non-violence. Among animals, violence always win. Yet only non-violent movements shifted society towards more sharing.

    Let's make our voices heard. Share your experiences, promote them in social networks, get the word out about the real world so that more and more people stop believing in the shiny TV-reality. There are not enough thugs for sale to enslave a planet committed to peace.

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  5. this is an exaggerated one sided account of events, please post the police report or summary of your events stating both sides of the story. Obviously you were not just dragged of for doing nothing but just standing there, you obviously must be leaving something out. The way you said "four large men" suggested that you may have even been aroused by this situation, can you please state your current mental state? If you have mental health issues or anyone in your family has had mental health issues in the past? This account is not reflective of the truth

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  6. The police have a job to do. If you disobey the law then you must suffer the consequences. I don't understand why ppl complain about being moved along the street when they were given ample notice and direction to move on peacefully on their own accord, yet they refused and continued to disrupt the city of Melbourne coatings thousands of dollars to the tax payers and public transport system.

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  7. Thanks for sharing, stories like these go a long way to make many (like myself) determined to get off the fence and get in the city to get involved.
    This is serious, police need to understand they can't treat people who peacefully protest this was - it's almost like they're doing all that they can to raise the violence level. keep it peaceful - lets ramp up the numbers and find out what they're going to do when the whole city is mobbed with people (and cameras)

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  8. Wildeyez:

    How DARE you?

    I'm actually literally speechless right now, trying to process the insanity you just wrote.

    Firstly, if you think this is exaggerated, first look at all the videos saturating youtube showing clearly the brutal crackdown that occured. Then expand your search to other occupy movements. Then other protests. See a familiar pattern? The police are used REGULARLY to brutalise and humiliate the masses when they get out of hand. Shame on you for simply deciding that this woman, who you don't even know, is simply lying, exaggerating, overstating the situation.

    Your opinion reeks of sexist bullshit, your condascending attitude, your utterly uncalled for remarks and assumption that she was simply overwhelmed with arrousal by having four large men attack her. Because that's what all women secretly yearn for, isn't it? To be dragged around and humiliated by big strong manly men.

    Why the hell would you call her sanity into this? Is it because women are so overemotional and irrational, maybe she hallucinated the whole event? Your dismal attempt to delegitimise her is, frankly, sickening.

    What a fucking disgrace.

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  9. Wildeyez, I doubt there was a police report or summary. This was a common story - people were just plucked out and taken away somewhere else and then let go without arrest. One person told me they saw the police pull a union flag out of a guy's hand from behind and when he turned around in surprise, they grabbed him and took him back behind their lines and threw him on the ground and then took him away. Apparently under the anti-terror laws you can be held for 4 hours. It is one of their techniques for dispersing the crowd. They also charged the crowd with horses trying to split it.

    And, the description of how the police just come up behind unexpectedly was true, I watched it done repeatedly. I couldn't figure out how they were doing it without people being aware of it. But the whole thing was really choreographed. One minute there was one group of cops, the next there were some other ones.

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  10. Best to ignore the faceless trolls posting inane inflammatory rubbish. Likely it's Andrew Bolt or some similar stooge using a few dozen pseudonyms to create the impression there's a backlash against the protesters. These retarded comments are all over the net, but highly inarticulate and totally unsupported by any of the accounts from people there, to say nothing of the video footage.

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  11. Scary account of what happened. I'm still shocked at what seems to be the end of Australian society allowing peaceful protest.

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  12. Wow Blob I can hear your surprise as you tell this story and I can only imagine how surreal it must have felt. I think we as Australians are almost so stunned by this kind of institutional violence that we barely know how to respond. I was at Occupy Sydney yesterday (though not today when the eviction took place) and I was very concerned about the Police presence. I blogged about it today. I commend you for telling this story. From one bespectacled nice woman to another - You Go Girl! Thanks

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  13. Wildeyez went way overboard, but he does have a point in that this is a very one-sided account.

    It takes a while to cut through all the biased description (ie you and the other protesters are "floppy haired" "harmless looking" "bespectacled" and "innocuous", while the police are "huge", "bullying", "navy-uniformed","thugs", moving in "phalanxes" and shock, horror, wearing SUNGLASSES - as opposed to 'bespectacled', I guess).
    However, once you do, the story seems to boil down to this:
    You joined the march, failed to keep up, fell over, and were dragged out of harms way.

    You mention many gruesome stories of brutality and bastardry... but none of them actually happened to you. You weren't punched in the face, your nipples weren't twisted. And you didn't actually see it happen to the people who told you the stories either. I'm not saying those people were exaggerating their stories, I can't possibly know the truth of it. But the point is, neither can you...

    I suppose the police didn't have to haul you out. They could have just left you there and trampled straight over the top of you. Presumably you would then have written how brutal they were NOT to haul you out.

    Don't get me wrong, I actually support the principles of the "Occupy" protest. But self-blinkered twaddle like this, trying to demonise the Police for just doing their jobs is nonsensical and distracts from the message.

    I have no doubt you had an unpleasant experience, but to blame anyone but yourself for it occurring is the victim-mentality at it's height.

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  14. Thanks for sharing that. It's similar to other experiences of people arrested at demos not for committing any crime, but as part of of heavy-handed crowd control exercises of dubious legality (to say the least). You should share that story with people you feel comfortable with, but so many people are raised to respect and revere authority - especially armed authority - that it can be confronting and confusing for them to be exposed to experiences that contradict the 'policeman is my friend' stories we all heard in primary school and that some never get beyond. There is not always the sympathy for people who dare to challenge the status quo or step out of line - however innocuously - in conservative societies like Australia, as well.

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  15. Coy couldn't have said it better.

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  16. Thank god some of us can read between the lines, and also not let hatred cloud our judgement.

    Well said Coy.

    I suggest the person who wrote this account does the right thing, and fills in the gaps.

    Or would that ruin the authors intent to incite as much anger to our police force as possible??

    Fear mongering is lame.
    Understanding is cool. (Well kinda gay actually!)

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  17. Great article.

    Here is my account of the eviction of the peaceful protesters..

    http://anunaka.com/2011/10/occupy-melbourne-global-awakening

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  18. Coy - it's easy to deconstruct a piece of writing and pull out all the inconsistencies, exaggerations etc. But I doubt you have ever been caught up in a protest that is being shut-down by the police. It is a very frightening experience, and the emotional language of this author reflects the fear of being caught up in this experience. It is absolutely true that there are exceedingly violent members of the Victorian police force who appear to be present simply for the reason to administer violence. I remember a few years ago being punched in the solar plexus by a policeman, and it hurt for days. He was running along a line of protestors randomly punching into the crowd. He had a large smile on his face, clearly enjoying the "rush". We were simply standing adjacent to police lines holding up placards with sentiments we wanted to express to a passing "dignitary". The right to express my dissent in a democracy was being suppressed by the strong arm of the state. This author like many others has clearly had a similar (though much more intense and frightening) experience. If you support this kind of behaviour then you are supporting a form of fascism, as fascism openly uses state sanctioned violence to silence dissent. Get yourself in the middle of a protest being shut-down by police (which is your democratic right) and find out if its possible to write a "balanced" account of proceedings. The police do not have to be violent, they choose to be violent. They have enough resources to calmly shut-down a protest if they wish, but the Victorian police clearly enjoy using violent tactics, and frighteningly they do so with the blessings of local and state governments. Even the Australian newspaper (a conservative establishment broadsheet) is appalled with the state sanctioned police action. I can only hope that accounts like this will pique the interest of the police ombudsman and there will be an enquiry.

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  19. Jordan,
    What violence was perpetrated by the police against the writer of this article?

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  20. Thanks for sharing your story, Catherine. I was down there around 1pm that day, for similar reasons to you, and had a similar experience being violently (and frighteningly) shoved around by the police. (I am also a bespectacled woman standing only 5'3", funnily enough.)

    I've lived in Australia for 3 years now, and I have always thought that Melbourne is a far more humane and rational place that my country of birth, the US. Now I'm not so sure, either. At the very least, I'm worried about where we're headed.

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  21. What about those who didn’t agree with you protest that wanted to enjoy the City Square? What about the businesses you affected by staging your protest there? Or do you not care about anyone who doesn't agree with your beliefs?

    Occupy Melbourne and what it was 'supposed' to achieve seemed totally misguided and without reason, Occupy Wall St I understand but creating a shanty town at the front of the Westin was only going to achieve one thing, further scorn for the upwardly mobile far left. If you want to get your point across you and your fellow protesters should also understand what are demonstrating against, this was not the case.
    Until that happens I for one am glad you were removed from your 'Pointless Protest'

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  22. Coy - Forcible removal from a peaceful protest, which is a democratic right, by the police is a form of state sanctioned violence and should not be supported by anyone who supports the flourishing of a democracy. Furthermore the Occupy Melbourne legal team have recorded 43 cases of police violence which they are presenting to the Victorian Police ombudsman. Regardless of our political views it is important our police force and government are not allowed to turn on the people. I believe the author has already answered your question.

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  23. Coy - the woman involved in this story was seized and detained without charge, except a statement that she was "breaching the peace". They were not "doing their job". They seized her and obviously several other women, and "hot boxed" them by holding them in an overheated police paddywagon, without indication as to when they would be released, for a long period of time.

    The purpose of arrest is generally to bring charges against the arrested person, which may then be heard by a competent authority, within a reasonable time. This was not the case here: the police simply grabbed people and chucked them into a police paddywagon without charging them. No magistrate or judge has heard either side of the story. While there are two sides to every story, it wouldn't matter if the woman in this story had been commmitting an offence: the arbitrary seizure and incarceration of people without charge is not a legitimate form of arrest. As such, on the face of it, the police have acted outside their powers and have acted outside the law. I am qualified to make such a determination, as I will soon be admitted as a legal practitioner.

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  24. Further, the tactic of arbitrary seizure and detention of people in police paddywagons, after which they are dropped at random locations without charge, is an old tactic to break up protests. I don't enjoy live protests, I don't participate in them, and I don't think they are worth the risk of arrest or violence. I fully support the proper arrest, charging, trial and punishment of anyone who breaches the law, especially violently. If protestors commit offences, let them be punished appopriately for it. Equally, if the police act outside the law and outside their powers, they are committing offences and they should be punished for those offences. It would be nice if we did inhabit a utopian society where the police followed the rules all the time and did not act with excessive or unwarranted violence. Unfortunately the police force is flawed and some people in it act violently without lawful excuse or justification (gratuitously). Sure, some people might think it is okay to bully and bash the "smelly hippies" and "dole bludgers", but that does not make it legal.

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  25. Bravo middleroad! Well said. I think the law team for OM has an incredibly important job ahead of them for the sake of all Victorians. I hope they are as lucid as you.

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  26. Hello! I was wondering if I may quote you in my article for an essay I'm writing for Uni on the Occupy Protest, I would be really grateful to have your permission. You write beautifully. My email is goodbyemybutterfly@gmail.com

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  27. That's a very disappointing story, I'm sorry to hear about your experience!

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  28. So I repeat the question.
    What actual violence was committed by these "thugs" against this "harmless looking bespectacled woman"?

    I don't mean convenient socio-speak political 'violence', (eg preceded by babble like "a form of".. or "state sanctioned..."). That crap can be just as easily countered by similar gibberish like the protesters "commandeering" public space, creating a "massive human blockade", "hurling their unsolicited political views" at innocent bystanders. All of which could just as easily be described as "a form of" violence.
    Nor do I mean metaphysical nonsense about violence against democractic rights.
    Nor simply unpopular police tactics (they never actually charged her? How shattering! "Come back here! I demand you charge and convict me! It's my democratic right to have a criminal record!"... How chillingly violent...)

    I mean actual, real violence - that would be recognised as such by ANYONE, not just those with a pre-established agenda and bias against the police.

    As I said, to an outsider like me, it sounds like she fell over, was dragged out of harms way, and was then kept there.
    Not punched
    Not kicked
    Not headbutted
    In fact not treated thuggishly or violently at all.

    Middleroad, I am just as qualified to make such a determination, as I will SOON BE admitted to the post of Lord High Commissioner of Twinkle Dust and Pixie Dreams.
    If your legal career is going to be spent deflecting argument, overemphasising technicalities, blending legal formality with emotional claptrap and misquotes (at what point did anyone say it was ok to "bully and bash 'smelly hippies' and 'dole bludgers'"? In fact, at what point has the writer of this article claimed to have been bashed at all?), relying for authority on qualifications that you don't actually hold yet, I'm sure it'll be a long and fruitful one.

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