Thugs in Blue Uniform: NSW Police Assault Beloved Sydney Identity

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Danny Lim

He’s beloved around the Sydney CBD for his cheeky but peaceful protests, but Danny Lim is now in a “poor state” in hospital after sustaining injuries during a horrific and violent arrest by New South Wales police officers. 

78-year old Mr Lim is a Sydney icon. He was wearing his trademark sandwich board sign, “SMILE CVN’T! WHY CVN’T?” – when confronted by police. He was arrested for a similar sign past and went to court for alleged offensive conduct, but the court confirmed wearing such a sign is not against the law at all.

In fact, the use of more force than necessary is considered an assault under the law, and given the state of Mr Lim after the incident, the conduct of police likely amounts to the crime of assault occasioning actual bodily harm.

The incident occurred after police were called to the Queen Victoria Building by security guards shortly before 11am. 

Two attending police mandhandled the elderly man, shoved him to the ground face first and handcuffed him as he lay vulnerable.

In the footage, a witness can be heard gasping in shock at the actions of police. Mr Lim is, afterall, only slightly built and he is an elderly man. He could have been, and should have been, treated with more care, especially given the law makes clear police are allowed to use no more force than reasonably necessary during an arrest.

Failure to follow a police ‘move on’ direction 

A statement from New South Wales Police says that Mr Lim declined to leave “when asked”.

“Police will allege the man was subsequently issued with a move-on direction by officers and failed to comply.” 

“The man’s arrest was discontinued after he struggled with police and sustained an injury to his cheekbone.”

In the footage, passers by can be heard gasping at the sight of Mr Lim’s injuries, and blood on the tiled floor. 

It’s understood that Mr Lim may have neck injuries and internal skill damage, and is now awaiting a brain scan. 

In the meantime, police have promised to review body cam footage of the officers involved in the arrest and to undertake a review. 

All attempted platitudes and defences that we have heard so many times before. 

Internal Police investigation underway 

When can we begin to expect that officers will be appropriately when arresting people? 

Mr Lim, who is well known, and also well known to police, was arrested previously in 2017 and 2019, showing both times, as in this case, no real threat to armed police officers. 

Mr Lim was successful in the courts on both occasions over charges that his sign was ‘offensive’. In 2019, the Magistrate presiding over the case was highly critical of the behaviour of the police officers who had arrested Mr Lim.  

Similar kinds of police misconduct issues are firmly in the spotlight in Queensland, following a recent Commission of Inquiry which delivered a scathing report into the “broken system” and a “failure of leadership” over many years. The Queensland government has pledged $100m towards reforms. 

No appetite for real change in NSW 

The New South Wales Government, on the other hand, has so far lacked the appetite to investigate police behaviour in any meaningful way, despite the escalating concern amongst our communities.   

And despite promises by new Police Commissioner Karen Webb, in her initial press conference where she outlined a vision for “better and more connected community and workforce,” little seems to have changed since her appointment. 

Most preschool and primary school children are taught in the curriculum that police officers are a source of safety – a “go to” should they ever find themselves in trouble and without a grown up they know. Police also take an oath to “serve and protect” but increasingly the reality is quite different. 

Unnecessary force – ‘thugs in blue uniforms’

Police officers in New South Wales have become a source of fear – because there is just no way to predict how or when they might use weaponry or excessive force that to the general public seems vastly unjustified in some cases. 

When Channel Seven posted the video footage of Mr Lim’s arrest,  it pre-warned viewers that some might find the content ‘distressing or confronting.’ Is this the ‘new normal’? 

Time and again, officers who cause harm are not held accountable and are still paid to patrol the streets, leading them to be branded “thugs in uniform. 

In light of the incident involving Mr Lim, NSW Greens’ police spokesperson, Sue Higginson, is demanding an independent investigation. 

“You can’t have police investigating police,” she told media. “Not having an independent investigation into this is completely what the NSW police state looks like.”

Failure to comply with a police direction 

Under section 199 of the Law Enforcement (Powers and Responsibilities) Act 2002 (NSW), it is an offence for a person to refuse or fail to comply with a direction given by a police officer without a reasonable excuse.

The section reads as follows:

Failure to comply with police direction

(1) A person must not, without reasonable excuse, refuse or fail to comply with a direction given in accordance with this Part.

Maximum penalty–2 penalty units.

(2) A person is not guilty of an offence under this section unless it is established that the person persisted, after the direction concerned was given, to engage in the relevant conduct or any other relevant conduct.

A penalty unit is currently $110 in New South Wales, which means the offence is punishable by a fine of up to $220.

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Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist, and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team. Sonia is the winner of the Mondaq Thought Leadership Awards, Spring 2022.

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