Saturday, October 22, 2011

Peaceful protesters, violent cops

So yesterday (Friday October 21) the inspiring Occupy Melbourne protest in City Square was violently evicted in what would best be described as a police riot.

I arrived at the protest after the main eviction had occurred. Nicola has a description of some of that earlier action up on Indymedia. That was the most violent part of the day.

When I returned late in the morning, many who had been dragged through the dirt and dumped on the kerb on their face were wandering around, a bit shocked. Supporters had gathered and witnessed the eviction, occupying the intersection of Collins and Swanston St.

Soon the police pushed us out of the intersection in a big line, shoving the protesters, who slowly gave ground and mainly converged in front of the town hall on Swanston St. Dave, a respected union veteran , was holding the protesters organised into a peaceful line, with the intent of moving slowly up Swanston St in front of the police, as they pushed us. "Do not contest - when the push, we move slowly" was the chant.

Dave was quickly dragged away in a headlock by about four police, and we didn't see him until he was released that evening. Happy 60th birthday, Dave! Right after this - thinking, probably, that they had removed our "leader" - the riot squad formed into a V and pushed right into the protest, apparently trying to drive us onto the footpath and up the street.
This great pic was borrowed from facebook

This was the most police violence that I personally witnessed. We were pushed up against rows of police cars on the side of the street so we couldn't move, while the psychos of the riot squad kept pushing and shoving aggressively, and occasionally grabbing people. People fell over; one guy fell in front of me under the police line and immediately had a riot squad goon (without ID badge) jump on him, punch him in the face, and drag him away.

I suspect this was the point where Greens upper house MP Colleen Hartland, standing aside and watching, was randomly shoved into a wall by one of the uniformed goons. Many in the police heirarchy will be very uncomfortable with these excesses that are so well documented on so many cameras.

Another blogger seems to have seen (and felt) much worse than me at this point. When I say the police were violent, it is not a rhetorical flourish.

They pushed us up the street to the next intersection (Bourke St), where the protest stopped and some attempt at discussing what to do next was made. Eventually various people decided Trades Hall would be a safe space to retire to; we were pushed up the road again by the police, retreating slowly all the way, arms linked in a line. There was less aggro at this stage, just grumpy cops and some fairly outraged protesters.

What flabbergasted me was that, even after all the protesters had decided to move to Trades Hall, the police line followed us, pushing, still grabbing random people out of the crowd in headlocks and dragging them away for arrest. The police were truly out of control.

Even as the crowd arrived at Trades Hall, the police lined up outside and herded the crowd onto the lawn at the front of the hall, as though they could chase us right into the union hall. The police association ought to be ashamed: just a week or two earlier, they had a huge banner on the hall, supporting their claim for a pay rise. Today I think many would agree their membership in Trades Hall ought to be brought into question.

However little the rank and file police have to do with the decisions to evict protesters, there is no excuse for the kind of violence I saw. Arresting people need not be accompanied by a punch to the face, a knee on the chest, or a chokehold on neck pressure points that was shown graphically in Herald Sun photos today.

The remaining protesters camped in the trades hall and held an assembly, where they decided to meet again and peacefully rally in the city today.

I just came back from this: despite pouring rain, around a thousand marched through the city centre, held another assembly in front of Trades Hall, and decided to march back past the City Square again, to identify it as the point for a re-occupation next Saturday when the plan is to return with enough numbers that we cannot be stopped.

I'm happy that I arrived early in the morning on Friday and collected up two tents. The police and council demolished the camp without regard for people's property: it was compacted and taken to the tip. I may be needing those tents again!

Today also saw a clear demand from this "demandless" movement: for Lord Mayor Robert Doyle to resign. Amen to that.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for documenting an important day so eloquently, Ben.


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