We’ve been told they are under increasing pressure to enforce stage four lockdown restrictions.
But video footage of Victorian police swarming on a group of Dandenong neighbours who walk together at the same time every day looks a lot like officers are more intent on using brute force than common sense.
More than 30 people from the group, including women, children and families, who say they simply choose to exercise at the same time, have been issued with Covid-19 infringement notices over the course of this past week, three people have been arrested and four people charged and given court dates.
It’s difficult to fathom that so long as they adhere to social distancing, why these suburban residents can’t all take their one-hour of exercise together and take the opportunity to socialise at the same time.
Socialisation – that is contact with real people outside of their own homes – is something that Victorians are not able to enjoy at the moment, unless it’s via skype or over the fence with immediate neighbours, because under stage four restrictions Melbourne residents are only allowed to leave home for four reasons:
- to buy essential items like groceries,
- to receive or to give care,
- to exercise, and
- to work.
There are restrictions on how far they can travel from home, and there is also a nightly curfew from 8pm until 5am.
The prolonged and pervasive restrictions, with no end is sight, is leading to what’s now being called ‘lockdown fatigue’.
Ugly scenes at Andrews Reserve
Dozens of police cars and police officers have been patrolling Andrews Reserve to strictly enforce the rules, and, at times, scenes have turned very ugly – with physical clashes, people calling police officers ‘Nazis’ and police using pepper spray on the community members.
But with no planned end to stage 4 restrictions, and many Victorians not working because non-essential businesses are closed, people are coming close to breaking point.
Victorians are also deeply concerned that their Premier wants to expand the current State of Emergency for another 12 months, because as Daniel Andrews himself has stated: his government won’t be able to dictate guidelines such as mandatory face mask use and isolation rules without the 12-month extension.
The government has already mooted plans to permanently expand the powers granted to Public Service Officers to assist with enforcing compliance with Covid-19 Public Health directives.
The other issue of course, is that under their currently expanded powers, police officers can stop anyone, at any time, to question what they are doing and why. They don’t need warrants to enter homes, either.
Officers have been particularly forceful in recent months, with footage of an officer putting a woman into a chokehold before pinning her to a wall, dragging her, forcing her to the ground and kneeling over her because she was not wearing a face mask.
And Victoria Professional Standards command is currently investigating another incident during which a police officer shot through a car window at a man who was allegedly breaching curfew.
Victoria Police have been particularly heavy-handed when it comes to dispensing fines for Covid-19 breaches too. A recent Parliamentary inquiry was informed that Victorian Police have handed out nearly 20,000 fines for Covid-19 breaches during the pandemic, including 1,669 for failing to wear a mask and 2,145 for breaches of the Melbourne curfew.
There were 5,761 fines for “non-compliance of directions” and 20 fines issued to people who had failed to self-isolate.
By comparison, according to NSW Police, officers in New South Wales have issued 1,440 fines since 17 March 2020 – 1,421 to individuals and 19 to businesses.
‘We’re all in this together’
Victoria Police and the Victorian Government are taking a hard line stance with Dandenong’s exercising residents, calling them ‘protestors’ and saying under the current public health mandates, they have no right to be out together, and by doing so, are putting the community at risk.
It’s also been reported that one Dandenong local became particularly agitated when a police officer quipped: “we are all in this together.” Because clearly, we’re not.
Over time we’ve seen a very distinct ‘us and them’ mentality being perpetuated by Police, not just in Victoria, but Australia wide, with Police having increasingly aggressive interactions with the general public.
As we all come to terms with the coronavirus pandemic and begin to adjust to a totally new way of living with border lockdowns, travel bans and social restrictions, as well as cope with the stress of high unemployment, and the very real fear of a deep impending economic recession that will last for years to come, what’s required most at this moment in time is compassion.
And yet right now, it seems to be the one thing that our governments and police forces appear to be lacking.