Mardi Gras: Police Must Not Police Themselves

Syndey New South Wales Riot & Public Order Squad, by Jason Marshall

Ok, here’s my take: I remember the whispered stories where I grew up of the dead men found in parks, and landfills, and in ditches along lonely stretches of road, horribly beaten and often unclaimed… of families driven out of hometowns because their son was rumoured to be gay… of abuse at the hand of authorities, and institutional indifference – or worse…

I remember the narratives of invisibility, and powerlessness, and disposable lives – narratives not so different than this week’s revelations of the murders and assaults here (here!) in the Emerald City throughout the 80’s and 90’s – violence that far too often went un-investigated, unresolved. And I remember, too, the work and struggle of those (mostly older than myself) who carried us from there to here, to this brighter time – to this life that I often take for granted. And I am thankful.

So it pisses me off mightily to hear the glib dismissals tossed at the growing chorus that is rising to challenge police excess.We all know and appreciate the great work our local cops – especially here in the city – do with and for the gay community. I have no interest in police bashing, or in seeing an end to that cooperation.

But we can also easily catalogue the drift into police heavy-handedness (or the expansion of police powers, or the police exemption from independent oversight) over the last several years.

It is unacceptable to slam the head of a tiny, handcuffed young man (or anyone) into the pavement – whatever his alleged prior misbehaviour (which the wee accused will have to answer to, shortly). Or to violently assault another man attempting to cross the street. (Append additional instances here.)


It is unacceptable to demand that cameras be turned off at a police action in a public space.

It is unacceptable to consider “foul” language grounds for arrest.

It is unacceptable to harass non-violent, unoffending people with dogs on a dance floor or at an event – or to array an armed force around the dance floor, etc. It is unacceptable to abuse the “probable cause” powers that sniffer dogs presumably provide.

It is unacceptable to shut an event down because a small number of people are found to be in possession.

It is unacceptable to abuse those detained for minor possession – or to abuse anyone in order to determine if they are in possession.

It is unacceptable to strip search people (en masse) with a failure rate of well over 70%.

It is unacceptable to act as the moral guardians when it comes to dress or attire at events where unconventional dress is in fact the cultural norm.

It is unacceptable to approach the gay community, gathered in celebration, as a public order problem – as your default position.

It is unacceptable to sneer, jeer, or lob slurs.

It is unacceptable to police a large gay event (esp. Mardi Gras) without adequate cultural, historical and procedural instruction.

It is unacceptable for the police to police themselves, and to reject an independent investigation.

And it is unacceptable for us – all of us – to fail to ask ourselves, “What sort of society do I want to live in? What are the powers that we, the governed, consent to bestow on our ‘peacekeepers’? Have those powers expanded too far? Is there adequate accountability to the public?”

I suspect (hope) that the public outcry – beyond Friday’s rally – is about more than one or two abuses of power or about securing an apology (or several). It is about change – about arresting the (back)slide down a dangerous slope… no more narratives of invisibility and powerlessness…

And we do well – always – to look beyond our racial, cultural and/or socio-economic silos to see just how much shit other communities cop, and work together to put an end to it.

Peace x


Post Mardi Gras Police Blues. The cameraman explains what happened. Police Press Conference. The second video – does it change things? Unsolved gay murders.