Tom Raue, a USYD student and Honi reporter, wrote this piece on the evening of the strike on May 14.
Today I had the worst experience of my life. I stood at the City Road picket with other students and staff, surrounded by police. The riot police beside us had put their gloves on and were lined up, ready for a fight. I knew what was coming. Seeing that a friend was holding the end of a banner where the police would soon attack, I offered to replace her and moved to the front line.
The violence began. Police pushed from the front and the side, attempting to force protestors off the road. I was quickly grabbed by the throat and dragged to an almost kneeling position. I had my arms linked with my friend, who stopped me from being dragged away. Other than that one arm, I was surrounded by the dark blue overalls of the Public Order and Riot Squad. I was vaguely aware that my friend was screaming my name, but the loudest sound was my own blood pumping.
I could not breathe. I feebly pulled at the police officer’s arm, trying to free myself, but he did not relent. I was being held down, and nobody could see my face. As I grew faint, I became less worried about the pummelling scrum and ensuing bruises. I was frightened for my life. The grip around my neck never wavered, and I feared that I would pass out or even die, unnoticed, before the fight ended.
After perhaps a minute of being unable to breathe, the grip around my neck morphed into a relatively pleasant headlock. I could now breathe, barely, but my body was limp and I struggled to stay on my feet. Soon I was pulled back by unseen comrades and ushered away from the front line. I sat with the others, my head spinning and vision blurred. I mimed along with the protest chant.
I have been crying all day, whenever nobody can see. I sometimes can’t stop shaking, I get distressed in crowds and seek solitude. After I was strangled, I was witness to and involved in several other incidents of police violence. I am covered in cuts and bruises, but I’ve heard of other students in far worse condition.
Amongst the messages of support, there have also been reprimands. If I am constantly a target of police violence, must I not be provoking it? Don’t I deserve it for disobeying orders? I have always been firm in my support of civil disobedience, but today I doubted myself. Traumatised, wanting to disappear, I thought that maybe it actually is all my fault.
That is the most insidious effect of institutionalised violence. It is so tempting to blame the victim for not behaving in the right way, and I even did it to myself in a dark moment. But no, I do not deserve to be brutalised by police. I am proud to rush to the front of a confrontation and protect my friends. I am proud that I stand my ground instead of caving in the face of intimidation. The police broke their own laws, and used violence to silence political protest. I am not the one who deserves to feel like shit. The fucker that choked me apparently laughed afterwards, and I can barely type this with shaking hands.
There’s no positive upshot.
See Honi’s coverage of yesterday’s strike here.