On Tuesday, December 6th, a woman protesting with Occupy Melbourne was forcibly stripped of her tent costume by Victoria Police, and then left on the ground crying, clad only in her bra and underwear.
There is no back story that could ever justify this action. No verbal bullying or annoyance on this woman’s part can validate physical action, and neither can this behaviour be explained away as ‘necessary to get the woman to move from the park’ – or else why would the officers simply dump her there after the fact, exposed for all the public to see? This incident is nothing less than sexual harassment; public humiliation, if not sexual violence. A group of people not wearing police vests would have been charged immediately.
The fact that this act of sexual harassment occurred on the very same day as Canada-wide memorials for the December 6th shootings at l’Ecole Polytechnique in 1989 is painfully ironic. I attended a memorial held at the Rosza Centre on University of Calgary campus Tuesday, where the main theme was hope for future free of violence against women. Yet, within twenty-four hours, we are met with another example of the violence pervading society, and accepted by the authorities we depend on for protection.
The actions of Victoria police in Australia are not an isolated incident, however. Increase of police tactics using harassment and violence against peaceful protests is a global phenomenon. From military crackdowns in Tahrir Square, to the myriad of bruised and injured protestors of all ages left by American police forces, to the quickly fading line between soldier and officer, to the increasingly disturbing information slowly leaking out about how far civil rights were violated during the G20 protests in Toronto last year, the sleeping masses have unconsciously allowed our police services to become the tool of tainted governments and the corporations and banks controlling them.
Of course, it would be entirely easy for the public to lynch our police service for their actions, and meet their undeniably difficult situations with hatred and distrust, but this problem goes further than just a few ‘bad examples’. The men and women serving in police departments are human, and they are also the 99%. They are likely just as worried about their pensions and jobs as the rest of us – like most of us, they have a boss, probably even more likely to fire or demote a person for their political affiliations or refusal to obey. If you think acts of police mishandling and brutality are caused by individual evil, you need only investigate the Stanley Milgram shock experiment, the Stanford-Zimbardo prison experiment, or, a more contemporary example, the Abu Graib prison scandal in Iraq.
Here’s a clear example of the weaponization of police handling protests, provided by Occupy Sacramento:
The officers who evicted Occupy Oakland were not handling a riot situation or a warzone – but their use of ‘less-lethal’ projectiles and military-grade tear gas DIRECTLY CAUSED a riot situation. It directly led to the injury of an Iraq war veteran who had been taking part in the peaceful protest, and still has trouble speaking after brain surgery.
The ultimate questions that come to mind, observing all of these events and legislation giving police and military more domestic power around the world, are these:
If protest movements are becoming more and more peaceful, why are the officers handling them becoming more and more militarized? Is this the visible evidence that our administrations are in fear of popular dissent? Why are people on the street met with increasingly harsh treatment and sentencing, when the bankers and companies who knowingly stole trillions of our money live free from charge? How can ‘civilized’ western nations such as Canada and the United States dare to lecture Libya, Syria or Egypt on their attempts at democracy, when at home we are each day slowly losing those same rights and values that make us democratic?
I think it is due time every community re-evaluate its authority pact with their governments and policing services, and investigate the true necessity of our loss of freedom for some far-off, intangible ‘security’.
If any readers are or personally know someone who lives on that frontline as our police officers, I would love to hear your story, either in support or disagreement with my views.
Military crackdown in Tahrir Square
Milgram experiment on obedience to authority, 1961 http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2011/nov/14/scott-olsen-first-statement-occupy-oakland
Stanford prison experiment, 1971 http://psychology.about.com/od/classicpsychologystudies/a/stanford-prison-experiment.htm
Abu Graib prison torture scandal, 2004 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Abu_Ghraib_torture_and_prisoner_abuse