Alleged Police Brutality at Mardi Gras 2013

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.

____________________
UPDATE:

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.

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Josh Dowton

Student of history/theology/nonviolence/permaculture/missional thinking. Large of limb, red of hair. Semper in excretia sumus, solum profundum variat.

21 thoughts on “Alleged Police Brutality at Mardi Gras 2013”

  1. Personally, I’m rather skeptical of the entire situation. It seems rather sad that an arrest was made for “offensive language”. It leads me to believe that the individual person in question was causing a lot of trouble. To spend resources on arresting someone for saying naughty words seems like a waste of resources on such a busy night. The video is pretty hard to refute that he was treated in a manner that was not appropriate to say the least. And as you mentioned the camera doesn’t capture anything immediately before the guy was thrown to the ground. Perhaps he tried to run away or even attack one of the officers? Did he spit on one of them? This camera angle will never tell us. Excessive? Yeah I think so. He is a skinny guy wearing short shorts and is physically small compared just about every one else in the footage.

    Was he making trouble? I think it’s a very safe inference to say indeed he was causing a significant amount.

    1. It’s interesting, though, that the police did not seek to initially arrest him for something more than ‘offensive language’. At least from what has emerged to this point, they were arresting him for this alone, and then, it seems, there was (allegedly) some sort of struggle, which has apparently added the charges of ‘resisting arrest’ and ‘assaulting a police officer’ to the list (which all seems to be prior to what the video captures, and seems to be how he sustained the initial injury to his head).

      Like you, Andrew, I think something must have happened to kick it all off, but I think we should be a bit cautious about speculation on this too.

      All we know for sure is that the young man was thrown to the ground by the police officer while his hands were cuffed behind his back. This is on video, and I’m not sure any part of that statement can be refuted. There is most probably an interesting back story as to what led to this point, but it remains that the (larger) officer threw the (smaller) handcuffed young man onto the pavement in a violent fashion. It could very easily have killed him, if his head hit the ground before his shoulder did.

      1. Mmm I was thinking that the back story may have led to the young man being “Capone’d”, being arrested for something small because he was unable to be arrested for a larger crime that would warrant attention.

        But I agree that the end result, the small man being throw down like that, is not acceptable.
        The danger of course is the duplicity in ourselves. Would we accept the event had the person being thrown to ground was being arrested for murder or rape? Not having the details, I’m glad there is an investigation because this sort thing highlights the prejudices in us all.

        1. Ahhh! I get you now.

          I hadn’t thought about the idea of him being “Capone’d” (which I’ll now reference you for when I use the term), but I still find it hard to understand why the police might do that. My cynical mind inclines me more to think that the young man was probably causing an embarrassing (but otherwise not really ‘illegal’) situation for the police, and the arrest for ‘offensive language’ was meant as a display of power/order (or, even more cynically, was an attempt to provoke something that could be regarded as ‘resisting arrest’).

          However, that’s getting way more speculative than the evidence allows, and I’ve already cautioned about that above and should probably listen to my own advice here : )

          1. As much as I would love credit for the “Capone’d” call, it’s not mine. I do like it though, sadly I can’t remember where I heard it 😦

  2. Here’s a report with some new footage showing the earlier stages of the incident (prior tp what the original footage recorded), which appears to show the young man resisting arrest: http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/youll-make-it-worse-for-yourself-new-footage-shows-mardi-gras-teen-kicking-at-officers-20130308-2fp79.html

    This is not a good look for the young man, and probably goes some way to explaining the agitation of the officers involved.

    However, and it is a big however, it still doesn’t go to explaining why the young man was being arrested for ‘offensive language’ in the first place (it shows him already engaged in a struggle with police seemingly attempting to handcuff him when the struggle ensues), and it certainly doesn’t explain why the large officer throws him so violently to the ground (shown in the original video footage). The young man is small, and handcuffed. Whether he resisted arrest earlier or not doesn’t, I think, make the actions of the policeman involved ‘reasonable’ by any means.

  3. http://www.smh.com.au/nsw/youll-make-it-worse-for-yourself-new-footage-shows-mardi-gras-teen-kicking-at-officers-20130308-2fp79.html

    seems to me like the police were acting reasonably in a difficult situation. I don’t think we give police enough credit for the work that they do in very challenging circumstances. Rather than blame police our suspicion should start with the behaviour of groups of young people who are bingeing out on alcohol and drugs. This has nothing to do with GLTB discrimination.- every Friday and Saturday night our police this sort of behaviour.

    1. Thanks Shane.

      You’ll note I did link to this article in my comment above, and I also noted in my original post that I would be happy to be corrected if new evidence came to light.

      Having said that, I don’t think this changes much at all.

      The policeman still threw a handcuffed, much smaller young man to the ground in such a way that it could have killed him. I don’t find this acceptable, even in light of this new footage.

  4. Josh, instead of blaming the police, we should turn our attention to cultural values that encourage binge drinking (and abuse of other substances). We don’t give police enough credit for the challenges of their job.

    1. Hi Shane,

      I see what you’re saying, but I don’t agree that this should ever mean staying silent on things like this.

      I don’t for a moment support the culture of binge drinking that contributes so significantly to violence in our society, and I don’t want to take away from the difficult job that police face in dealing with this. I mentioned the respect that I have for police in general (and their often difficult, thankless task) at the beginning of my post.

      Having said that, I think we have significant reason also to be suspicious of the police for a number of reasons. Aboriginal deaths in custody, for example, are still happening today, and there doesn’t seem to be nearly enough outrage about this fact. In my experience, police often respond with greater force than is either reasonable or necessary, and I personally believe that there is a culture of this macho aggression that runs deep in the police forces of Australia. I don’t like it, and I’ll continue to call it out.

      I realise that trying to keep something like Mardi Gras under control (for the safety of the public in general) is a very difficult task. But this kid was already ‘under control’ when he was slammed so violently to the ground. He was handcuffed, and the much larger officer shouldn’t have had any trouble being able to sit him down if he felt like the situation was about to get out of hand.

      It may be true that what has occurred here does amount to resisting arrest and assaulting police officers (interestingly, though, it still doesn’t show the very beginning of the incident), and if this is the case the young man should certainly be charged with these offences.

      However, I can’t see any way in which you could class the officer’s action here as ‘reasonable’. In my opinion, for what it’s worth, he should certainly be charged
      too.

  5. So after having seen the previous footage of the guy assaulting the police and kicking them while restrained I have no doubt that the officer was utterly justified in his actions. Another angle shows that immediately prior to the young guy being thrown on the ground he tried to kick an
    officer. He was initially stopped for harassing a girl too. Apparently touching her inappropriately.

    1. I must say, I find this rather fascinating.

      In my mind, none of this changes the fact that what the officer does is (way) over the top. The footage that shows some of the earlier part of the incident simply suggests to me that the young man should rightly be charged. Some of the reports that are emerging seem to indicate that he was being a right little shit, but that doesn’t for one second make what the officer did ‘reasonable’, and it certainly doesn’t, in my mind, ‘justify’ anything.

      The young bloke was handcuffed. If the officer felt that he was getting out of control (again), all he needed to do was to apply upwards pressure to the young man’s hands. I think had he done so he would’ve found he could steer the young bloke any way he wanted.

      If anything, it suggests to me that the officer might have burning a bit after having to try so hard to subdue the little fella in the first place and was acting more out of the emotion of the initial encounter than judging the situation before him.

      In my mind, the officer should be charged too. None of this new footage changes that in the slightest.

  6. I’m the first to cry foul on the police. My driving record and criminal record have led to quite a few meetings. Some where I have successfully fought charges against me.
    But in my view ( and honestly I think if it goes to a court then they will share this view) reacted to a violent action in order to protect himself and those around him from further harm. Police brutality, is (was) alleged, however I think it will be seen as police protecting themselves and civilians. The guy was restrained, but still thought he could hurt people… And my previous point stands, would anyone care if the guy being slammed into the ground was a murderer/rapist?

    1. It may be true that no one would care if it was a murderer or a rapist. That doesn’t, however, make it right.

      It may be true (and I think it probably is) that, as I noted in my comment above, the kid was being a right little shit. But even little shits should be treated better.

      It might be that the majority of people will end up concluding that he got ‘what he deserved’. It still doesn’t make it right.

      Police are meant to uphold the law. If someone breaks the law, the police are there to bring them to justice. They are *not* there to dish out an arse whooping, no matter how much someone ‘deserves’ it.

  7. Hello Josh,
    We may have met once or twice, very briefly, but I have ended up here at your blog through a link chain. I would like to comment.

    In an ideal world, police would know exactly how much force to use or not use in every situation. They would have the ideal summation of the situation in hand, and perhaps even know if the person with whom they are interacting is sane or deranged; is all bluff and bluster or capable of real harm; is reasonable or made incoherent by emotion or substances.

    Unfortunately, we don’t live in an ideal world. Police make mistakes of judgement.

    This not only happens because they are human and we all make mistakes from time to time, but because they place their physical safety in the way of unknown danger every day, on our behalf. An underestimation of the the danger in any situation could cost them their very life. Just getting called to a domestic dispute recently cost a policeman his life.

    We ask them to maintain order and risk themselves, so that we can avoid hurt or damage as we blithely go about our lives.

    I don’t know if the police response to this event was excessive. I don’t know the complete story. Bit it does seem that in just a few days, many people have seen that the story is a lot more complex than it was first thought.

    I don’t believe in trial by media. I don’t believe in judgement without all the facts. I don’t believe in listening to the first and loudest voice without hearing the other side.

    I certainly believe that a dispassionate review will be the best hope for justice in this whole situation. This review process may be flawed or skewed but it will be better than the ‘gut’ reactions that most will have. If the officer did wrong, let him be charged, tried and punished.

    I don’t have a lot of personal experience with getting arrested. However, in all my dealings with police, I have found that being truthful, co-operative and respectful has always helped my situation.
    They must get very tired of being hit, kicked, spat on, sworn at, abused and demonised for trying to uphold what society asks of them.

    1. Hi Carlo,

      I don’t think I disagree with anything you say.

      I would simply add that police undergo training for precisely these sorts of occasions. Their training *should* give them the resources they need to be able to respond to such situations with greater precision of mind than the general population.

      You note that they are human like the rest of us, and as such they should be subject to the same laws. This officer, in my opinion, should be charged, in the same way that the young man should be charged for his own violent actions.

      I think my post here might have touched a nerve because people may be reading me here as having absolutely no respect for the law or police officers, or that I am endorsing some sort of violent anarchism.

      None of this is true.

      As a Christian, I am committed to a general practice of obeying the law. The only time that I will seek to purposely break a law is if I see it as being unjust, or if I am seeking to highlight an unjust law. This is basic nonviolent civil disobedience for a very specific purpose, and not for the general thrill of lawbreaking. I don’t endorse chaos, and I don’t endorse violence of any kind. I *do* endorse showing general respect to everyone, and I value the self-sacrifice that lies at the heart of many a decision to become a police officer.

      What I object to, though, is the trajectory I see of police heavy-handedness. I see this in many forms in Australia, and I think it’s something that needs to be addressed.

      Personally, I quite like the idea of having easy access to recording devices to be able to record police action. I get very suspicious, though, when I see police officers (wrongly) ordering people to stop recording.

    1. That article was surprising, that police would go to such lengths to cover up something. It is indeed scary. I had an encounter where I was pulled over (still debating on whether to go to court or not). I photographed the officer and her vehicle. She was not happy and tried to make me delete the photo. I declined in a polite way, which was a massive effort, unless she could produce a law that prohibited me from doing so, she then threatened to sue me if the photo was moved and further from my phone.
      My fear is that in protecting the public by limiting police, are we enabling people actively committing crimes and looking to get away with them? Perhaps this is a different issue? No one should suffer violence from police, I do think officers are entitled to protect themselves and those around them and I’m not sure you can legislate every situation into a code of acceptable practice.

  8. I’ll throw in a bit more… Perhaps the officers, given Jamie’s actions previously, were wary of suffering further assaults. The new footage shows his legs moving in quite a dangerous manner. Legs do hit significantly harder than arms. If he kicked just before being thrown to the ground it could be reasonable to assume that the officer thought himself in danger of another kicking flurry from Jamie. From there it can be argued that it was reasonable and not excessive action to take Jamie down in the manner in which he was. The cops do “cop” a lot from drunken persons, those actions are not always predictable and if the officer was required to work for another 8hrs (who knows) then being injured may not have made those 8hrs easy.

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