Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Could London's death by police happen at Melbourne's protests?

The Occupy movement is a global phenomenon, and we should avoid parochialism as we consider responses to the disproportionate use of force by Victoria Police against peaceful protesters last Friday in the City Square.

In the UK a police officer now faces trial for manslaughter over the death of Ian Tomlinson, a newspaper vendor innocently caught up in the 2009 London G20 protests as he walked home from work. Video footage shows Mr Tomlinson being struck on the legs with a baton and pushed to the ground by a police officer. He collapsed and died a short time later.

Even had Mr Tomlinson been a participant in the protests, and even had he broken some minor law, no-one could reasonably argue that he deserved the treatment he received at the hands of police, and he certainly would not have deserved to die. Instead, Mr Tomlinson was not a participant and broke no law, but died anyway.

Everyone concerned about excessive police force at the Occupy Melbourne protest should review the video of the attack on Mr Tomlinson and compare it to the footage taken of the Melbourne protests. The level of force employed here was in many cases quite clearly higher than that which led to Mr Tomlinson's fatal heart attack shortly after the police incident in London.

In normal circumstances, if an ordinary citizen injures or kills an attacker, the law of self-defence calls on them to show their actions are proportional to the threat they seek to avert. With their use of horses, dogs, capsicum spray, pressure holds and even punches, it seems police refused to be bound by the same rules in their claimed defence of public order at the Occupy Melbourne protest.

Premier Ted Baillieu, Lord Mayor Robert Doyle and Acting Chief Commissioner Ken Lay should consider the potential cost when police needlessly disturb the peace in order to keep it with disproportionate force that might easily take a life.

(An excellent opinion piece by Anna Brown has been published in today's Age regarding the likely legal and human rights violations of actions by authorities last Friday. See Civil rights and crossing the line)

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