Reclaim the Streets
An overview and analysis of police responses to Reclaim...
The Shrine action on 11 November 2003 & the Myer Window of Suffering
In these two actions by Women For Peace the police acted to further the agenda of The Shrine trustees, and Myer business, and violated our rights of peaceful protest.
At the Shrine in Melbourne, the police set us up completely. They were on the lookout for us, and when 7 women aged 20 to 78 (most of us were over 50 years-old), turned up, they were prepared. The Shrine trustees were not having a repeat of the 2002 incident with full media coverage.
The police confiscated our banner immediately and refused to let us distribute our peace flyers, although The Shrine information was being distributed. The police confined us to a spot where we were not visible, and then broke us up because they thought we were going to chant and disrupt the ceremony. We had no intentions of doing that.
Reinforcements were called immediately, and I was carried forcefully away by two policemen and arrested.
I was held tightly underarm and shoulders and dragged across the front lawn of The Shrine. I cried, No, No as I was being dragged. No-one from the hundreds of people assembled stopped the police or registered their disapproval about a woman of my age being dragged in such a violent way. “Pathology of indifference,” I thought. “The Jews were dragged away in a similar way in World War 2, and no-one cared.”
I suffer from arthritis in my arms, shoulders and back. The tight hold by the police triggered severe pains that lasted many days. I saw a doctor and the symptoms were documented.
Another woman, Anna (not her real name) was also arrested for “assaulting police and resisting arrest”. Anna was charged for “assaulting police, resisting arrest, etc.” I was not charged.
Anna had reacted emotionally to the police dragging me across the lawn. She knows that I have severe pains in my arms and shoulders from arthritis. She was concerned for my wellbeing and implored the police to let me go and not drag me. In the context of this commotion, Anna bumped into the man accidentally. He assaulted her by choking her. She cried, I cannot breathe, several times. The police did nothing. When she was released from his grip, she had something like an asthma attack and sat on the ground, gasping for breath. The police surrounded her and continued to harass her, wanting to drag her to their car. She asked for a Ventolin inhaler. Nobody had one. Anna received no first aid, nor was an ambulance called. When she felt calmer, she was taken to the police car.
Anna’s 78 year-old mother, a frail woman, recovering from a virus infection on that day, was very distressed to see Anna assaulted and not assisted when she had difficulty breathing. (The mother is a veteran of the Vietnam War peace protests, and is distressed that we have learnt nothing from the past. She joined The Shrine peace action, despite being ill, as she needed to make a statement.) She was not allowed to be with Anna in the car to the station. She walked down the hill with the other women to the police station to await the outcome of the arrests.
The inhumanity of the police in treating Anna’s mother in that way was shameless. When police/army/citizens follow rules without compassion, we near the edge of darkness and all forms of cruelty become possible.
The police had actively created the conflict and managed the ensuing chaos to damage Women For Peace at The Shrine.
The Shrine incident showed how a women’s peace action against war is hijacked and demonised by the power structures terrified by even the minutest notion of peace. The police were there to do the bidding of The Shrine trustees and the state. Our rights as citizen protesters were not protected.
The police were also called by Myer executives to move us forcefully as our Window of Suffering next to the Christmas windows was bad for business as it might make people think.
The police came in large numbers, again all men. They ripped up our placards, bundled up our things, and dragged me to their car. Then they let me go with a warning that I go home.
A few people protested and argued with the police about our treatment. Michael Leunig was one of the witnesses.
When we put up our Window of Suffering opposite the Myer windows, we had no trouble from the police. The two police who did turn up were very supportive.
The police were more aggressive in the last two incidents. They were supportive in other peace actions at Nike, Borders Bookshop, and McDonalds.
Another feature of an all women’s peace group is that authority figures think that women are easy to frighten and intimidate. Council officers, private security guards, etc. try to move us on within the first 10 minutes of our peace actions. They tell us we need permission, they intimidate us with their body language, they threaten to call the police. When we tell them politely but firmly that we are not moving, and we know our rights about public spaces, they usually disappear. But this level of intimidation is sometimes enough to frighten some women. Hence the need for strong group cohesion and support within Women For Peace.
Championing peace does not make you a hero in Melbourne. A visible and public stand on peace makes you a villain. People and structures that benefit from invasions and wars, groups who support the status quo of Western power domination will attack you verbally and physically. The police will not protect you but do the bidding of their political masters. To be a peace activist is to be a pariah, the faceless mob. The women in Women For Peace will continue to work for peace. The price of indifference is, personally and globally, too high.