Behind every act of brutal violence that occurred last Tuesday is a culture of intimidation – the feeling that the rules that keep us safe are illusory when they’re most needed.
It was this feeling that particularly struck me when I protested against billions of dollars in cuts to our higher education system.
I was joined by hundreds of like-minded citizens. I was also joined by the Public Order and Riot Squad of the NSW Police Force. They had jumpsuits, handcuffs, hand ties, capsicum spray, knives, pistols, horses, vans, four-wheel drives, a truck, and most memorably, creepy leather gloves.
The protestors poured onto City Road, delaying traffic to draw attention to our cause. The march began, and I raised my voice in protest. I also raised a flag. Unbeknownst to me, my flag brushed the face of two riot police as it flapped in the wind.
A cop grabbed my wrist. He jerked my arm, causing me to stumble towards him. He dragged me from the crowd. He looked like a pitbull, about to devour a meal. He stared at me –
“I’m going to lock you up.”
He continued:“If your stupid flag hits one of my boys again, I’m going to lock you up.” I insisted that I intended nothing, but before I could finish he interrupted “I saw your face. I will lock you up right now.” I repented for the flapping of my flag and was pushed violently back into the protesting crowd. I was shaken, and as my friend Casey came to my aid, she too was grabbed and shoved back into the crowd.
I wanted to tell the cop that only our courts could “lock me up”. I wanted to tell him that all he could do was detain me if he reasonably suspected that I had committed, was committing, or was going to commit an offence. His detention of me could only be a last resort, and would otherwise be wrongful. I wanted to tell him that I was not scared of him.
But I was scared. I was terrified. It was the hateful look in his eyes, the force in his grip, and the violence of his tone. He knew that he couldn’t arrest me. Of course, if I had reacted to his threats, he would have had cause. Thanks to my ‘flight’ response, that cause did not arise. Instead, I was thrown back into the crowd like a piece of dirt.
I was physically shaking. I felt like crying. I felt angry.
This is one story of many arising from last week. Stories in which members of the NSW Police Force set out to instill fear in the hearts of citizens as they dissented against their government. They join countless stories in which the same officers tried to silence unionised staff and their supporters. They are stories in which power-hungry thugs muted the passionate voices of those who have so much to contribute, of those who, when something is wrong, resist it.
Resistance is exactly what a healthy democracy looks like; it is not made healthy by letter-writers, career ladder-climbers or Q&A question-askers alone. It is made healthy by those who protest – on the streets, in their workplaces, and in their everyday lives. Last week, the police responded to such people by breaking bones, choking and intimidating them.
For that, they should be ashamed.