On Saturday, schoolteacher/writer Mike Stuchbery was punched by a cop as police brutally removed peaceful Occupy Melbourne protestors from a Melbourne Park (see his account of the incident at the bottom of the page). It all came about because Lord Mayor Robert Doyle was “desperate not to have the eyesore of a few tents when the Queen arrives”. Yesterday, Doyle mendaciously defamed protestors to justify his actions. Here is Mike’s response.
OPEN LETTER TO LORD MAYOR ROBERT DOYLE
I wrote an ‘open letter’ to you last week regarding your words to Nick Carson, the representative put forth to explain the demands of Occupy Melbourne on Jon Faine’s Conversation Hour. It was a smug, arrogant, little jerk of a piece and while I was appalled at your boorish approach to Carson, I put it down to the fact that, well, it’s your usual approach.
Now, however, I am furious, enraged. My heart hurts in my chest, my temples pound. I feel sick.
Not three days after you had the Victoria Police forcibly evict the peaceful City Square encampment using brutal, heavy-handed tactics, you’ve published an editorial in the Herald Sun that places firmly in the spotlight your contempt for the people, for the democratic right to protest and your own arrogant hubris.
You lie, you impugn and you defame.
Your description of protesters as a
‘self-righteous, narcissistic, self-indulgent rabble’
fairly drips with a bile and vitriol completely inappropriate for the highest office-holder in a cosmopolitan, modern city like Melbourne. You sound not so much like a Mayor as a headmaster — an authoritarian, inept one at that.
You impugn and defame the protesters by suggesting that the protesters were armed and seeking to attack people, when you state:
‘Peaceful? Hardly… how do these protesters explain the knives, hammers, bricks, bottles and flammable liquids that we found in their illegal tent city? What were they for?’.
It was a campsite, you sneaky, moral dwarf. A campsite. These were the tools used to set up camp. To erect tents, to cook, to establish a peaceful community. To suggest that they were going to be used to attack police is a vile, morally bankrupt slur.
You describe the police action as carried out
‘efficiently and with absolute minimum use of force'.
We’ve all seen the footage, the pictures snapped by the thousands of smartphones and cameras throughout the day. We’ve seen that you had officers use horses and capsicum spray, fists and boots to clear protesters, causing a number of injuries. I, myself, was both recipient and witness to police violence on Friday afternoon, when I copped a blow from officers who were pulling protesters who were peacefully moving up Flinders Street. I saw police pull protesters from the crowd, take their cameras and attack them with a fury I hope I never see again.
You fail to see the truth before your eyes. Worse, you are probably very much aware of it, but choose to lie to the people of the city of Melbourne.
You continually insist that the campers were blocking access to city streets. They weren’t, not until you cleared the City Square. They camped on what was, arguably, one of the most deserted spaces in Melbourne, a sandy patched only used every so often for a festival, otherwise left dormant.
Occupy Melbourne was the most lively and exciting I’d seen the site in years.
Now it stands surrounded by a steel fence, dog patrol in attendance, surrounded by security guards. Nobody has access to it. It has been removed from the hands of the people.
The kids have been naughty, so time to take away the toys. That’s your approach.
You claim that the protest harmed business. Not in my experience. Starbucks, 3Below and Brunettis appeared to be doing booming business the five days I visited the site. Families sat, enjoying coffee and cake, alongside activists charging their equipment and the media who flocked to the site.
Melbournians weren’t scared by the protesters. They see weirder every day. This is Melbourne, ferchrissakes!
You say they had time to ‘make their point'. Working to effect change, to open a dialogue, to begin to make the world a better place doesn’t have a time limit. This isn’t Year 9 debating. This is the real world, the marketplace of ideas, not your private patch.
In every word of your poisonous editorial, you show exactly what a poor, inappropriate, harmful choice for Lord Mayor you have been. You are an autocrat, a bully and a bigot, justifying the use of violence against those whose ideological aims oppose your own.
You can’t run a city like a classroom. You can’t use our boys in blue as a baton to strike out at those you don’t agree with.
You are a bloviating, boorish, populist, dolt.
It is my dearest wish that you continue to receive the harshest of criticism of your actions, and that come the next election, the people give you what you deserve for your disgusting treatment of constituents: unemployment.
‘I’ve witnessed scenes in our city I hope I never seen again”.
I hope we never see a Lord Mayor the likes of you ever again.
(This story was originally published on Mike Stuchbery’s blog on October 23, 2011. Both this and the story below have been republished with permission.)
Mike Stuchbery’s personal account of the de-Occupation of Melbourne, originally published on mike-stuchbery.com on that fateful day — October 21.
I got punched in the ear today. By a cop.
Jesus, violent assault becoming a bit of a theme here, isn’t it?
Anyway, I’m not a troublemaker. I’m a suburban high school teacher. I’m no radical. I’m a politics nerd, a West Wing fan. I am extremely fond of capitalism. I like stuff. I’m materialistic. I think our democracy is considerably healthier than many of our international cousins. I make a point of letting the kids I teach know that our system is a great one, that we should protect it. Laws? They’re ace. I nearly voted Liberal once or twice. Still might, if the bigoted, zealots get the nudge.
I have my Trot tendencies, but they’re cast aside at the thought of getting my hands on the latest iPhone.
I’m not gonna lie. I’d be a hipster douchebag, but I’m too chunky.
Point is, I’m not a radical, not matter what some middle-aged woman on the #auspol hashtag will try to tell you. I am totally, completely, exquisitely normal. Middle of the road.
So, when I found myself in the Swanston and Bourke intersection, facing off against a wall of police, both mounted and on foot, you can bet I was on the verge of soiling myself.
I was there because I’d watch those protesters who’d opted to stick around the Occupy Melbourne campsite be fenced in by council workers before having their butts handed to them by the Victoria Police, on the orders of Lord Mayor Robert Doyle. I thought what I saw showed an exceptionally heavy hand, a lack of judgement and disdain for the right for Victorians to peacefully protest.
Having written about the protest throughout the week, sometimes critically, I felt that I needed to see it through to the end.
So, this afternoon, after school – yes, I have a job, thankyouverymuch – I wandered down Swanston Street. The street was lined with police cars, vans and trucks. Around them, uniformed offices milled, directing pedestrians away from the cordon they’d set up, blocking the street.
I crossed the street and walked up the street until I got to the major intersection, where a crowd of about 500 had gathered. I recognized many from the previous days, with a healthy couple of hundred newly arrived. They weren’t all crusty punks and trustafarians though. Many wore business attire and seemed fresh from their desks in city offices. It was a more diverse crowd than had been at City Square all week.
After a couple of minutes of aimless milling and a little drum circle work in the middle, we were told that the police were going to make their move, and we were to all move together, hands on shoulders, as one away from them, up towards the State Library.
Well, no turning back now.
As the police moved forwards, I noticed the fellows in front weren’t wearing name badges. Now, this was concerning. See, a couple of years ago the S11 protests resulted in a lot of people getting very badly hurt by the police. At the time, police were seen taking off their badges before the violence flared, so they couldn’t be identified in committing violent acts. In the aftermath, police were widely criticized for this practice. Since then, in negotiations with police, Victorian protest organizers have always sought assurance that any officer involved in breaking up a demonstration is wearing their badge.
So, yeah, that worried me.
The police began by walking forward in their cordon, beginning with the customary ‘Move! Move!’, and the crowd slowly reacted, moving back slowly. I was about three or four people from the back, but as some smaller guys and girls trickled back through the crowd to prevent themselves being shoved. At first it seemed that they’d be given the command to move forward for thirty seconds before stopping, but as we continued, slowly, up the street, the intervals lessened. People became more and more cramped.
All through this, the protesters heckled the crowd. Nothing too inflammatory, more the kind of ‘Why are you doing this? Join us!’ fluff you get from some. There was no oinking, no claims of brutality. Hell, it was almost good-natured. Me? I kept my damn fool mouth shut, except to repeat ‘Easy….easy…easy….’ over and over again. I focused on taking pictures of the wave of police shoving us back and making sure I didn’t lose my backpack.
I’m not sure when things first started to get ugly. I think the first I noticed was a redheaded guy, gangly, thin – looked like a member of Belle & Sebastian – get plucked from the line by police, punched a few times and thrown back into a second line of police.
That got a reaction from the crowd.
With cries of ‘police brutality’, the crowd quickened its pace backwards and got tighter and more compact as we approached the Lonsdale Street intersection. A bloke with a particularly expensive-looking DSLR had it snatched from him by a police officer as he took pictures of them. It disappeared into the cordon.
Those up the front screamed as they approached the busy intersection and we up the back were pushed right up against the police. Someone yelled ‘capsicum spray!’ and panic rippled along the line. The police seemed to take this as a signal to pull certain individuals from the crowd — a dude next to me with a ponytail, another wearing a helmet. The guy next to me started mouthing off, yelling that this was ‘******* disgusting!’ and a police officer in front of me threw a punch at him, missing. He turned towards me, quite distinctly and threw another one, landing on my ear. From there, the police began throwing punches and driving the protesters forward at a faster pace.
I spotted some open footpath. With an aching ear and absolutely whacked-out on adrenalin, I tumbled from the crowd and sat on a bench as I watched them being driven up Lonsdale Street by the assembled police. Eventually, I rang my fiancée and started on my way home.
I’ll admit, I was terrified. It’s been five hours and I’m still rather disturbed by what I saw.
I’ve always respected the Victoria Police. I still do. They’re there to do a job, they’re pretty good at it – though not infallible – and I think they’re a fine tool of the state.
Until now, I’d never seen that tool used like this, used so heavy-handedly. This was a group of non-violent protesters that could have been contained and eventually dispersed if the police hadn’t arrived first thing in the morning to take down the Occupy Melbourne site in riot gear and with ‘kettling’ tactics. Riot cops weren’t needed. Mounted police weren’t needed. All were thrown in the mix by a Lord Mayor desperate not to have the eyesore of a few tents when the Queen arrives.
It was an amateur, foolish, tactic.
Hell, you know what? The police deserve better.
I think a lot of people saw what happened today and have realized that there’s something rotten in the state of Victoria. Our public resources are being used in an inefficient and autocratic manner. We’re being not so much governed, as ruled in some degrees. You’re going to see crowds tomorrow at Flinders Street station testing how hard those in power are willing to come down.
Congratulations Robert Doyle, you’ve divided the city. You’ve radicalized some and made others even more contemptuous of a legal, democratic gathering.
The next few weeks will be very interesting. This isn’t over.
* * *
On the subject of contempt, I’m staggered at the number of people who cheered or expressed glee when I tweeted that I’d been hit. At the risk of sounding preachy or sanctimonious, let me get this straight: nobody deserves a smack in the head solely for expressing or standing behind an idea. Nobody.
We live in a cold, unfeeling, aggressive society. If you express delight at someone getting smacked for defending an ideal, you are a small, small, sad individual. What’s more, you’re party of the problem.
Grow a spine.