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A Firsthand Account of Being Arrested for Protesting

October 24, 2011

I was one of the people arrested on Friday for protesting against forcibly shutting down Occupy Melbourne. I have never been arrested before, and had never even considered it a possibility. I realise that I am a white middle class male, and that there are others in our society who are confronted by these realities on a regular basis. Despite this, I feel that my experience is worth sharing as it has had a huge impact on me.

Many police seemed to enjoy the opportunity to cause some violence. At one stage a girl I was next to was choked as a policeman pushed her against the people behind with his arm across her throat. As her face went bright red I grabbed his arm and said “let her go” at which point he pushed my head back instead, to which my sore neck is a testament. Afterwards, she asked him, in tears, “why did you choke me?” and he smiled. On the other hand, I did not see a single protester act violently, an aspect of the day which even Robert Doyle doesn’t seem to deny, only confuse.

A photo of me at the protest

I can be seen with my face to the camera and my hands in the air earlier in the day. From the Herald Sun online.

When the protesters in City Square had been arrested and the horses were brought up to Collins Street a man came up to me and started yelling in my face “those horses are going to crush your skull” and “when I see you in the back of the van I’m going to fuck you up”. My first response was to ask him why he was saying this, but then as I looked him up and down I realised he was a cop in plain clothes (the black and yellow police boots were the giveaway). I took out my phone to take a photo of him, but he quickly turned away and ran across the intersection and across the police line. It was the first, but certainly not the last time that I had failed to realise what was happening. Before Friday I considered myself to be quite cynical, but I was never ready to believe that the police would act like this.

After the horses pushed the main group of people out of the Swanston and Collins intersection (trampling a few people along the way) there was a lot of discussion among the protesters. It was clear that if we stayed put the police were going to push us again soon, so after a show of hands it was agreed that everyone would march up Swanston Street towards Burke. So at around 3pm, everyone turned to face North, with our backs to the police, and began to move forward. At this point, once the protesters were moving away from them, and perhaps because the cameras now faced away from them, the police began to push forward.

They shouted “MOVE, MOVE, MOVE” and pushed those of us at the back against the people in front of us. Ahead, protesters were blocked by the traffic stuck in the Bourke Street intersection, so the crowd had slowed to a crawl. I remember yelling “I’m moving as fast as I can”. When someone grabbed the backpack of the person to my right, I reached out towards him. Instantly, another officer grabbed my arm, twisting it behind my back. Another protester shouted “let him go you’ll break his arm” and a voice behind me shouted “I fucking hope so”.

Within half a minute, the guy on the right with the backpack, the guy to my left and a few others nearby had all been pulled behind the police line. I couldn’t see what was happening to them because I was facing the opposite direction and being constantly shoved forwards. Someone then grabbed me, lifted me up in the air and threw me on the ground behind the line. As I scrambled to get back up I was shoved back down to my hands and knees again.There were at least a dozen other people around me having the exact same thing done to them. It sounds daft now but I remember saying out loud “I haven’t done anything wrong” still completely shocked. I felt like I was ready to cry. I put my hands in the air to show that I wasn’t going to struggle, and a policewoman pulled them down behind my back. They then pushed me forwards, one on either side, to the back of a truck where they grabbed my phone from my pocket and started reaching around my clothes. I asked what I had done wrong but was met with no reply. The woman who took my phone asked “do you have any ID” and perhaps naively I told them which pocket had my wallet. She then searched all my other pockets and took my keys, some coins, a handkerchief and a mandarin peel and my shoes for good measure. I’m not sure if me raising my arms  and telling them what I had on me amounted to consenting to a search, but at the time I was scared and just wanted it to be over. I asked “where will you take me” and she told me the Custody Center, which later turned out to be false. Because I was getting answers now I again asked I had done and this time the reply was “you failed to comply with a police order” a cause which on it’s own is ludicrous. As someone has put it to me since; the police could order me to shoot my own mother.

The truck was entirely metallic with no windows. One guy sitting across from me was asking “can I please go to the toilet, you can bring me right back” every time they brought another person in. Eventually there were eleven of us in our section, one was a kid of seventeen who had come to the protests from school. The majority of the time spent in the back was spent with the engine off, occasionally we would move for few minutes at a time before stopping again. We tried to guess what was happening, the two main theories being that they were either driving around and letting people out one and a time (starting with the other section) or that they weren’t sure which station to take us to. At one point we realised we were all sitting on an angle and the van must be parked on a slope. After what seemed like an eternity we drove for a bit longer, the sounds letting us know we were on a freeway and then entering a car park with roller doors, signalling that we had indeed been taken to a police station.

After another stretch of time someone opened the door and said “first one”. We chose the guy who had been denied a chance to use a bathroom by the cops in the city. Around ten minutes later police took another person (again we let a guy who needed to piss go first), and then finally told us all to get out. As we were escorted through the underground car park the police pointed out our torn and filthy clothes, ripped by their colleagues and dirtied by the horseshit covered streets we had been thrown down and laughed. We were taken to a small bathroom, and I stood out the front of the door because I didn’t need to go. It was only after a double take that I realised this was the holding cell. The room was disgusting, it stank like shit and one of the metal benches was covered in blood. Every five minutes or so they would come in and take another one of us. When it was my turn I was taken down a corridor to a desk where a policeman asked for my name, date of birth and address. Lining the corridor was a row of shoes. I peered over the desk, I could see a bank of TVs, most showed empty rooms, but one showed some of the people I was with and some others who I hadn’t seen before who must have been from the other section. I could also see our property bags behind the counter and recognised mine. This was the first time I had seen a clock since they took my phone and it was 5:30, which meant I had been in the truck for over two hours. After checking that I didn’t have a belt (I guess they thought I might hang myself). I was brought into a room with FCELL painted on the walls, which one of the others had overheard being called the “female cell”. The “male cell” was already full.

In the cell they used temperature to tire us out and break us. First they heated the cell until we were all lying on the floor in silence, exhausted. They then swapped and cooled us right down, and we suddenly all got up, pacing around the room to keep warm. Just as suddenly, they would then make it unbearably hot again, leaving us even more weaker than before. I’m sure this procedure must be common knowledge for many, but for me this was completely shocking. It left me with an unbearable mixture of fear, lethargy and boredom. At one point I tried to balance a coin on its side to keep myself from thinking about what was happening and realised that my hands wouldn’t stop shaking.

After a few more hours they opened the door and asked for me specifically. I went back to the desk, where they told me I was banned from City Square and environs until Sunday evening, an area which ranged from Queen Street to Spring, from Flinders to Latrobe. At first I thought I was being told to sign an agreement, so I asked what would happen if I didn’t agree. They told me that I would have to see what the Governor said, which meant waiting in the cell until Monday. It took me a little while to realise that I was just being formally told this information, and didn’t have to agree with anything. So I took the ban notice, signed for the return of my belongings and was released without charge. I later found out they asked for me first because I had someone waiting outside. It was 8pm, five hours after I had been grabbed out of a group of peaceful protesters.

There is clearly more I could say about my own beliefs in regards to the Occupy movement, but my intention in writing this is to document what happened to me, not to further a particular agenda. However I don’t want my story dismissed through the type of stereotyping that has seen people labeled professional protesters, a term which I don’t even begin to understand. I would like to stress that I did not attend the protest in order to be arrested, and I spent most of the day refilling plastic bottles of water and passing them throughout the crowd. So briefly, for those of you who don’t know me, no I am not unemployed, drawing government benefits, a member of a union, political party or activist group – not that I think that should matter in the slightest. I was there because I believe the right to protest is one of the most important rights we have, it plays a crucial role in any democracy. A few flimsy excuses about hanging heavy items and having some tents shouldn’t be enough to clear a protest entirely with two hours notice. Most importantly, to first threaten a group with violence and to then blame them for the violence after they don’t give in to your threats is an incredibly dangerous brand of flawed logic.

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