As the head of the Police Association notes, we do need to be careful not to jump to firm conclusions about the alleged incident of excessive force at the hands of police at this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras without having all the evidence.
At the same time, it’s really hard not to.
Though I have a lot of respect for the role of the Police Force in general (and the often difficult job they perform every day – many times without any thanks), I have become very suspicious about much police action.
We have seen extraordinary heavy-handedness at the hands of police in regards to the ‘Occupy’ protests (especially in Melbourne, but also in Sydney). We have seen numerous clear incidents of significant police brutality and neglect towards Indigenous Australians (with a very recent example of multiple police officers outright lying about their violent actions and trying to destroy damning video evidence in their conspiracy to deceive investigators). And, of course, we have a sad history of police sometimes not co-operating fully in seeking justice for members of the gltbi community who have experienced violence or harassment (perhaps silently condoning such violence in some cases or even [allegedly] taking part in it at some points).
This is not a good look, and it leads to many of us simply not trusting the Police Force in general.
As such, when we see a handcuffed young man being thrown violently to the ground by a (much larger) police officer, it’s pretty easy to predict that many people are going to be outraged. Here’s the initial video footage of the incident:
Now, we don’t have all the facts, and it may well be that there is much more to the story than first appears. However, this does not change the fact that what was shown was pretty outrageous. The young bloke may well have earlier resisted arrest (this is not clear from the video, which seems to pick up the action after an initial incident that has already caused the young man to be bleeding, apparently from his head). He may have done all sorts of extraordinary things. Something happens immediately before the officer throws him to the ground, and it’s unclear exactly what that is (though it does look suspiciously like the young man tries to kick backwards). But when he’s handcuffed and being led around by an officer (who seems pretty clearly in control at this point) and then thrown with great force to the ground (without having the use of his hands to cushion the impact), there needs to be explanation. There also needs to be an explanation about why a number of the officers try to get people to stop filming the incident.
And these explanations needs to be really open and honest because, quite frankly, anything else will look like a[nother] cover-up.
I (and I suspect a number of us) will be following this story with much interest. If it turns out that there is much more to the story than now appears, I will be happy to acknowledge it. However, I’ll also be listening very carefully to the explanation about why the young man was thrown to the ground after already being subdued. ‘Extenuating circumstances’ here will, I suspect, be somewhat harder to argue convincingly.
New footage of the incident has emerged since my initial post, showing moments prior to what was captured in the original footage. You can follow how the conversation has developed in the comments below, but I thought it would help to post the new footage here too, for ease of access. You can view it here: http://media.smh.com.au/national/selections/the-other-side-of-the-story-4091837.html
Some have suggested that this changes everything, and legitimises the actions of the officer. To my mind, it simply legitimises the charges of resisting arrest and assaulting a police officer that have apparently been laid against the young man. He should certainly answer to these charges.
However, this doesn’t let the officer off the hook at all. What he did was far more than the situation called for (with the young man having already been restrained by handcuffs), and he too should answer charges. His action was not ok. Nothing has changed in this regard at all.
There are also still questions over why the young man was arrested in the first place. I don’t think there’s much doubt that he responded appallingly to being restrained by the police officers (and I don’t endorse his own violent action for one moment), but I do find it interesting that he was apparently being arrested for “offensive language” in the first place. No doubt we will be hearing more about this on the coming days.