This is my opinion. I speak as an individual supporting Occupy Sydney and in solidarity with others worldwide. This is only one experience and I know many people all over world suffer far worse at the hands of police and other’s supposed to help.
Last night I went to Martin Place and attended several working groups of Occupy Sydney. The camp had been raided Sunday pre-dawn by police who forcefully evicted peaceful protesters. Many people have been going back to Martin Place to talk, and continue the important conversation, and most importantly to be able to do this while present in a public space.
During this time, while we discussed art and performance and the politics of a wiki, community outreach etc. about 3 or 4 duty police were ‘overseeing’ us, though were generally ignored (or jokingly referred to as the ‘police working group’). There were about 60 people from Occupy there, with many people walking past saying ‘you are doing a good job’ or ‘I support what you are doing’. It was positive and inclusive.
I got there about 4pm and at about 9pm I decided to go home, and I think most did too. There were about 12 of us then. I saw no intention to make a ‘camp’ by anyone (except two ppl who are living homeless) and no-one had any camping gear. As I was saying goodbye, a few people in the group said they had made a soup and we talked about quickly eating before heading off.
At this point, there were about 12 cops. About one for each of us. Keep in mind all we had done for 5 hours was be in groups and chat logistics, jokes, ideas and just catch up.
The police informed us that we were not able to eat our food in a group as that would be considered ’camping’ and we would be given infringement notices and moved on.
Just think about that for a second. 10-12 people, quickly eating soup, before heading separate ways home as decided, had suddenly been told we could not do that. We were no longer welcome in a public place. Suddenly the number of cops made dawning sense.
We had a debate together for a while about what to do. As many people had been at work all day and it had been a nice day, the last thing we wanted was a petty confrontation with police over arbitrarily applied ‘by-laws’ (FYI the Lord Mayor of Sydney has said these by-laws, as signposted near the space, are essentially surpassed by the Local Government Act in NSW).
A this point I was feeling very upset. Inside I was livid.
Essentially, my decision, as a free citizen of Australia, to go home of my own free will had been taken away from me. The police had now given us a directive. It was no longer my decision to go home as my cat is sick and I feel tired. I now had to go home because if I didn’t, I would be fined and will have to have a police confrontation I neither invited nor deserved.
I and another woman, decided to go and chat to the policeman in charge. We asked him, ‘if we were a group of ladies coming back from a performance at the Opera House and had stopped to get Maccas on the way and were eating it in a group here, would that be okay?’ He said, ‘yes’. This directive, only applies to ‘us’.
He admitted that the order was ‘silly’ but that it came from top down and it is their job to do what they are told. We didn’t argue that point, but I know he saw the frustration and sadness on my face.
He said, we were welcome to stay, ‘but not in a group’. We had ‘to disperse’. I asked ‘how far away from each other do we need to be’. He laughed, but then had to take a phone call. But I wasn’t laughing. This wasn’ funny. It was oppressive and horrible.
A this point I actually started to shake and tear up. I was so embarrassed that my body was reacting to the presence of these police in a line in this way. To this sense of arbitrary ‘justice’. I was frustrated for my friends who had made food for all of us and their effort was suddenly against the law.
During this time, a group of roller derby peeps skated by and around the place. Did you know skating is also against a by-law on the same sign as erected in Martin Place. The police did nothing. The issue really isn’t ‘enforcing’ any law or by-law (much like a parking ticket!!). The issue is stifling peaceful assembly.
In my job in the public service I talk to police occasionally, if they need CCTV access for a court case, to help out if someone is being assaulted etc on our property. In my lifetime they have helped when I had my bike stolen, when my mother was being assaulted by someone who had broken into our house. I had a vision of the police as those who assist when things are wrong. Who help. That is slowly being eroded. That good experience. That respect. By how myself and others are being treated. Because we are being denied the right to peacefully assemble in public and talk about current ‘cancerous’ political and economic structures in this country. Or being able to talk at all. Or eat our dinner.
Last night I was denied being able to make a choice about my own personal movements and body in a public place. How could anyone seriously think this is okay? People are being told they cannot come together to talk in a public place and police are being sent out to get rid of lawful citizens. How scared are the banks and our government that this this response has been ‘ordered’?
FYI. That fine could totally be challenged in court. Just saying.