By Paul Gregoire
Using COVID-19 as an excuse, we’ve witnessed repeated instances of the police going too far. Today, we have another one.
In conversation with the ABC, traveller Daniel Gibbs said the way he was treated by Queensland Police was “horrendous, rude and vile” and that he was made to feel as though he was lying. Gibbs was flying home from Victoria when he was met by officers at Sunshine Coast Airport.
“‘Where else have you been? Why have you been there? You can really tell me where you’ve been. I don’t believe you. Show me your Google Maps so I can see exactly where you’ve been,’” Mr Gibbs recalled the officers saying.
Gibbs also recalled the police “badgering” numerous passengers as they debarked.
Later in the article, the ABC noted that “Queensland Police Superintendent Craig Hawkins said the passengers’ experiences were ‘really unfortunate’, but police had a job to do under the directive of the Chief Health Officer.”
Which might not be exactly true. According to a Ballina resident, what he experienced during the Avalon cluster was entirely different. As he recalls, he flew into Ballina from Sydney during the height of the Northern Beaches lockdown, and was met in the terminal by NSW Health workers.
Apparently, they politely checked his licence to confirm his address and asked if he had been to the Northern Beaches. After handing him a pamphlet on symptoms to be aware of, he was informed of the local testing areas and was sent his way.
Unfortunately, the above is yet another example of over-policing during the COVID crisis.
Choked into resistance
The nadir of the behaviour is the lasting image of a Victoria police officer choking a woman in Collingwood as she wasn’t wearing a mask that appeared online. Although hard to believe at first, the footage shows the older man dragging the young woman along by the throat, before tripping her over and kneeling down on her.
The video reveals an officer emboldened by the recent broadening of police powers, as he enjoys the use of excessive force a little too much. Then the police had the gall to stick the woman in a van, drive her down to the station and charge her with resisting arrest and assaulting police.
The assault charge was in relation to her having kicked out at another officer whilst she was being choked by the first for breaking the mandatory mask rule. Mind you, her doctor had provided her with a certificate explaining that she couldn’t wear one for medical reasons.
The initial policing of enhanced pandemic laws in Victoria was so overbearing that a coalition of community legal centres established the COVID Policing website in April. It was monitoring the “inconsistent and sometimes arbitrary way” officers were enforcing extreme confinement laws.
But, the most disturbing instance of over-policing in Victoria occurred in July when 500 officers were deployed to ensure 3,000 public housing tower residents remained in their flats in hard lockdown. Officers were stationed on every floor, while instructions were barked out over loudspeakers.
NSW: The Premier Police State
“The continuity of a legal regime requires the reiteration of the binding character of law, and to the extent that police or military powers assert the law,” writes American philosopher Judith Butler, “they not only recapitulate the founding gesture… but also preserve the law.”
Butler makes the comments in her 2020 book The Force of Non-Violence in reference to the work of early twentieth-century German thinker Walter Benjamin. She adds that “the law thus depends on the police or the military to assert and preserve the law”.
The act of affirming and maintaining new laws has been played out by state police forces repeatedly across the country since the pandemic began, as officers went trigger happy issuing COVID-19 fines, which not only enforced the lockdown, but also a new prominence in the role of law enforcement.
This has now transpired into the application of chokeholds for the non-wearing of facemasks in public.
In NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian took the escalation in policing one step further by placing NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller in charge of the state’s COVID response, which provided him with far-reaching control over not just his troops, but border force, defence force and health personnel.
“I don’t think anyone doubts that there will be an essential element for the police as we seek to enforce elements of a lockdown in response to a pandemic,” NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge recently remarked. “But that role should always be very much subservient to the role of NSW Health.”
And the gifting of this intensified control over the NSW citizenry to the leader of one of the largest police forces on the globe is quite concerning, especially when considering that prior to the onset of the pandemic, he was already making sniffer dogs and strip searches an everyday part of civilian life.
Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.
This article was originally published on The Big Smoke.
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