In a widely-distributed open letter to NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller, a senior member of the NSW Police Force Public Order and Riot Squad has drawn attention to a situation that’s seen “excessive force” being deployed by state police with “increasing regularity” over the COVID period.
Senior constable Kevin Dawson raises specific concerns about the way NSW police has been dealing with “anti-government” protests, which has been “infringing upon human rights”, with orders to do this “coming from a place of bias” and those “not representative or accountable to the people”.
“We have been told to ‘make an example’ of people protesting anything deemed to be anti-government, with a ‘get them quick’ attitude,” writes Dawson.
“Use of terms like ‘anti-everything hippies’ to describe these protestors, is indicative of the ever-increasing prejudice coming from above.”
The NSW police riot squad officer further states that he’s been involved with the policing of protests during the pandemic, where directives have been given on the ground that have put “peaceful protesters and innocent bystanders in harm’s way and in direct conflict with police”.
The ban on protests
As NSW was coming out of its COVID-19 lockdown, the Black Lives Matter movement reignited in early June, and the state police force made multiple attempts to shut its demonstrations down via the NSW Supreme Court.
The court finally ruled against one BLM protest set for 28 July, and when activists showed up for the rally regardless, police officers began enforcing an unofficial COVID protest ban, which, under the public health order, barred outdoor assemblies for “a common purpose” of more than 20 people.
The NSW government upped the number of protest attendees permissible to 500 on 22 October. This was after a series of protests held by the Sydney University-based Democracy is Essential campaign, forced the government’s hand via a series of on campus protests.
By that stage, it was commonplace for both uniformed and riot police to be patrolling the uni for the distinct purpose of enforcing the ban on tiny protests. And the tipping point seems to have been when footage captured officers using excessive force on a law professor who was observing a rally.
Against the oath
In the open letter, Dawson highlights bias in policing protests during the pandemic, when he recalls that on the day the “NRL grand final was packed with a 40,000 strong presence” and the pub across the road had 1,000 attending, the riot squad were sent in to break up a small protest.
“Anyone can see the blatant hypocrisy in such double standards and that there is another agenda at play and that it has nothing to do with public health and safety,” the police officer wrote.
Dawson further posits that when the police suspect a crime, they investigate it, “yet when a citizen assumes wrongdoing by its government, it’s called a conspiracy theory”.
The NSW police senior constable concludes by implying that the heavy-handed policing of protests, which continues, is at odds with the oath he swore on joining the force.
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Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on human rights issues, encroachments on civil liberties, drug law reform, gender diversity and First Nations rights. Prior to Sydney Criminal Lawyers®, he wrote for VICE and was the news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.