Hundreds of protesters assembled at midday today to protest the brutal arrest of 75-year-old Danny Lim, a Sydney man well known for his unique sandwich-board signs which often boast messages of peace and protest.
Lim was arrested last Friday in Barangaroo. At the time of his arrest on Friday, Lim was wearing a sign that said, “SMILE C∀NT? WHY C∀NT?” The police issued Lim an infringement notice for offensive behaviour.
A viral video of the incident depicted three police officers violently grabbing Lim’s arms and forcing his hands into cuffs as he repeatedly shouted “please help!” According to witnesses, Lim’s companion dog Smarty was also dragged away. In the aftermath of the incident, images emerged on social media of Lim’s bruised and bleeding arms before he was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital.
The behaviour of the police was widely criticised on social media.
Approximately 300 people gathered outside the Sydney City Police Station on Day Street, chanting and holding signs. Lim and Smarty also appeared at the rally, wearing a sign raising awareness about the negative effects Agent Orange.
Speaking in interviews before the crowd, Lim criticised the state and federal governments, pointing to other contemporary issues such as the recent instance of dead fish in the Murray Darling River, and broader problems such as climate change, transport and housing. He called for peace and “a movement for humanity.”
Over a dozen other speakers gave rousing speeches about police brutality and state-sanctioned violence. Several speakers made reference to the 13-year-old Aboriginal girl who had been traumatised after being strip-searched in custody by Hobart police.
“I think that what is happening right now is that we are sleepwalking into a nanny state and into a police state, and we can feel that grip tightening,” said Tyson Koh, the founder of political party Keep Sydney Open.
Ex-USU Board Director and current Greens candidate for Summer Hill, Tom Raue, also spoke at the rally. “He was brutally arrested for holding up a silly sign with words. But they are words that a court has previously determined are not offensive enough to constitute a crime. The police knew that.”
In August 2017, Danny Lim successfully appealed an offensive conduct conviction over a sandwich board that said, “PEACE SMILE / PEOPLE CAN CHANGE / TONY YOU C∀N’T.”
The District Court ruled that his use of the word did not amount to offensive conduct, as it was a play on words that could have other interpretations and had been used in the context of free political communication.
“While the officers that arrested Danny should be held accountable, it’s not just a case of a few bad apples,” Raue stated. “It’s an inevitable result of giving increasing discretionary powers to police to do what they want. They will inevitably abuse them. They use them against people of colour, against the homeless, particularly against Indigenous people.”
“The language that Danny used on his sign is something you hear from investment bankers in Barangaroo on the street every day, but you’re never going to see the cops beating them up.”
The rally was met with moderate police presence, with approximately 18 police officers standing around the edges of the protest. A barricade fence guarded by police officers blocked off access to the station entrance.
A GoFundMe campaign set up on Friday by youth activist Tasnia Ahmad has raised $1310 in the span of one day, almost tripling the original goal of $500. The campaign aims to pay for Lim’s court expenses.
“These cases are not isolated,” protest coordinator Max Russell told Honi. “We have a rampant culture of prosecution in Australia. We have a high rise of employment of police forces [sic] despite the fact that we have a dropping crime rate. I want everyone to be aware. I want people to read, I want people to educate themselves, and I want people to not be afraid to stand up for what they believe in.”
Lim first began to wear his sandwich boards in 2004 in order to raise awareness of the corruption in Strathfield Council. He says he will continue to do this for as long as he is alive. On the issue of police violence, Lim told Honi, “I don’t think it’s just about changing the police, but changing the state government and the federal government.”
A federal election is due to be held in May 2019.
Read Honi’s latest op-ed on policing here.