Last week I met with Occupy Sydney activists to learn of the new tactics being employed by the NSW Police Force to intimidate and harass the continuing Occupy Sydney demonstrators, a small group who is keeping the fight for economic and social justice alive as much of the rest of the world tries to forget it.
The police are now swooping on the Occupy site in Martin Place a number of times a day and confiscating goods deemed rubbish. Of course one man’s rubbish is another’s precious clothing, books, swag or diary. In the case of Occupy Sydney this decision is made by the police and any attempt to protect an item is deemed police harassment.
On the front of one of two small tables was a list of items that had been seized by the police and not returned, these included two laptops – hardly garbage by anyone’s sense of the word. One of these computers belonged to a 17 year old schoolgirl.
No receipts were given to the activists when their belongings were taken to either The Rocks police station or the dump.
To my shock my visit to Martin Place was interrupted by a demonstration of this police tactic when a dozen police officers turned up, made show of putting on their heavy gloves and seized a few cardboard boxes and milk crates.
When one girl tried to protect a roll of canvas a male officer yelled in her face that she would be arrested for police harassment if she didn’t let go. It was obvious the police were looking for any excuse to arrest the demonstrators, as they even tried to take back packs from people’s hands.
Since October 69 have been arrested, 33 charged and 42 fined, though the pettiness of many of these arrests has been shown when charges resulting from them are later dismissed by the courts.
Another quaint reassessment of the law relates to homeless people who police claim are no longer homeless if they join the Occupy site. Although many of the young people who are part of the movement are now virtually homeless themselves apparently their activism changes this and police are arresting or fining them for camping. Not only is the idea of arresting a homeless person for sleeping outdoors absurd and cruel, it is also in direct contradiction of the NSW Government’s Homeless Protocol.
What is it about having a political message that puts people on such a collision course with the authorities? How can a homeless person become not homeless because they spend time with political activists? Why do the authorities waste their time and our money harassing a handful of demonstrators when Martin Place is occupied 24 hours a day anyway by businessmen or party goers? Why aren’t receipts given when belongings are taken to the police station? How do police decide in the middle of the night what is garbage and what is private property?
In Dunedin and Auckland in New Zealand police refused to act on orders to remove tents and other structures from Occupy sites. In Scotland, Edinburgh officially supports the occupation while many counties in the USA have accepted the sites as expressions of free speech. In Eugene City the council provided lights and increased the homeless budget to support the movement.
This is a very far cry from the tactics being used by Sydney’s police who seem determined to destroy Occupy Sydney by attrition.