quiregrrl: (Disney Lesbians)
[personal profile] quiregrrl
I didn't go to Mardi Gras this year, my involvement ended when I waved best boy off late afternoon with the sparkly shorts I had made him to wear in the parade safely tucked in his backpack. But I've watched the explosion on social media, and mainstream media, since then with a huge range of emotions.

On Monday evening a video was posted on YouTube, of a police officer slamming a young, handcuffed man to the ground, and then placing a foot on his back. It was distressing to watch, and it made me incredibly angry. Not just at the police officer who assaulted the handcuffed man, but the other officers standing around, seemingly oblivious, or accepting, of what had just happened. One officer repeatedly tells the person videoing the incident to stop filming. There is blood on the ground from where the handcuffed man had reportedly hit his head/been slammed to the ground in an earlier scuffle not on the video. It was quickly followed by reports that another man was also alleging excessive force at the hands of the police in a separate incident on the night.

I watched this go viral on Facebook, and very quickly soon after in the mainstream media, and was caught up in the horror and sense of injustice and violation expressed by so many on my friends list. I fired off emails to the police and the City of Sydney council expressing my horror and outrage. On Wednesday morning I posted a status update: I was sickened by the police brutality video taken at mardis gras, as any decent person would be, and I am furious at the police involved, not just the perpetrator but his colleagues who stood by and were more concerned with stopping it being filmed than simply stopping it... But I am heartened, greatly, by the community response, both during the incident on film and in social media since then, I want to hug and thank the guy who filmed it and wasn't intimidated into stopping, and I am so proud and full of love for everyone who reposted, & shared info on making formal complaints to the police and governing bodies, as well as media outlets ... I'm so proud to be part of a community that cares, and that wants to stop shit like this happening and goes about it in an intelligent and appropriate way. It's easy, and right, to be horrified and depressed that this shit can still happen, but it's important, I think, to also acknowledge the love and care and sense of justice that is the flip side... Keep taking care of each other, and hug your queer family, today especially xo. I watched the police press response and the TV interview with the young man seen in the youtube video. I am still angry and outraged that a large, armed, police officer felt it appropriate to subdue a small handcuffed man by slamming him to the ground and putting a foot on his back. I'm angry that the other officers did nothing to censure their colleague, and were more concerned with stopping it from being (quite legally) filmed. As I said to best girl on Wednesday night, if they knew it was something they didn't want on film, why did they not do something about stopping what happened, rather than try to stop it being documented? But I started to feel that this wasn't a queer issue, that our collective sense of outrage that this happened at Mardi Gras - ironically a parade that evolved from a protest against police brutality against gay and lesbian people in the 70s, and which is now still a political march as much as it is a celebration of diversity and community - was somehow misplaced and inappropriate.

I wondered, if the video had shown a heterosexual man from the western suburbs in handcuffs being slammed to the ground, would the outcry have been the same? If he'd been indigenous? If he'd been older? I suspect not, sadly.

There was a rally organised for this evening, the facebook event states:
This year's parade celebrated 35 years since the first Mardi Gras in 1978. That first Mardi Gras was attacked by police who arrested 53 people, only 2 of whom were ever charged, while the Police released the full names of all arrestees to be published in the media. As a result almost all were sacked from their jobs and suffered from homophobic attacks. The NSW Police Force never apologised for this disgraceful behaviour. We ask that today we receive this apology.

We demand an end to police violence against the LGBTI community and a full apology to Jamie Jackson and Bryn Hutchinson, and all victims of brutality at Mardi Gras 2013.

An independent inquest into the bashings and arrests at Mardi Gras 2013. We want an independent inquiry. Police should not investigate themselves.


When the event was first posted I planned to go, over the last couple of days though my misgivings grew. There were a lot of people posting on the event page calling police "pigs", criticising the entire NSW Police Force, and generally being every bit as ugly in their behaviour as the people they were criticising. And the more I thought about what the organisers were specifying as the reasons for the rally, the more I became less than comfortable with lending my voice.

I was still undecided about going today, in the end I was stuck at work so late, and was so tired and worn down from my day that the decision not to attend became the easiest choice.

I think it's wonderful that the Sydney queer community is sufficiently privileged that they are able to organise a large-scale rally in such a short time, but I think that the same privilege that enables this level of response also blinds them to broader issues. For me, this wasn't a specifically queer issue. It doesn't matter that the person in handcuffs was gay, it matters that he was handcuffed, clearly distressed, confused, and intoxicated, and that the police response was one of such unnecessary force. I was disturbed by the response of the police in saying that policing in the western suburbs (where the officers involved were from), is different to policing in the city/policing the queer community. I'm concerned that there may be a culture in the police force that gives tacit approval to this kind of police response, and that perhaps it is not the policing that is different in the western suburbs, but rather the culture of the police in those areas, a culture that differs from the carefully built relationship between the police and community in the Sydney LAC. And I fear that these are not isolated incidents, that this shit happens to minority groups everywhere, groups that don't share the overwhelmingly white wealthy educated privilege of the Sydney Queer Community, and don't have the same ability to stand up and have their protests heard, let alone addressed. I'm also immensely bothered that there is no independent body investigating, or even overseeing police investigations, into complaints against the police force.

I think we're missing the point.

In the process of trying to straighten my thoughts enough to write them down here, I read this piece, which makes many points I agree with. In fact he summed it up almost perfectly for me.

... it is unacceptable for us – all of us – to fail to ask ourselves, “What sort of society do I want to live in? What are the powers that we, the governed, consent to bestow on our ‘peacekeepers’? Have those powers expanded too far? Is there adequate accountability to the public?”

And we do well – always – to look beyond our racial, cultural and/or socio-economic silos to see just how much shit other communities cop, and work together to put an end to it.


There's a bigger picture, and by making it a queer issue our focus is just too narrow.
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