I was attending a small but engaging rally against internet spying on September 15, organised by the Pirate Party and others at Hyde Park North, when seven police cars and four-wheel-drives drove into the park and about 20 police officers got out.
Protesting members of the Muslim community shouting “Allahu Akbar!”, marched into the park and police told us to hurry and pack up. More police ran, in phalanx formation towards the Muslim rally.
This rally of 300-400 people included women and children, older men and young Muslims, were protesting against the anti-Islam film Innocence of Muslims, produced in California, which one woman at the rally described as “disgusting”.
I spoke to three young women who were sitting calmly on the ground about why they protested.
“We had to protest this horrible film. If Jesus had been called horrible things in a film, Christians would have protested,” one of the women said.
“The police are being too heavy,” added another woman.
The police lined up, truncheons extended, behind and in front of the Muslim protesters. One police line then advanced on the protesters, yelling. The young men in the protest moved back. A woman with a pram hurried out past the cops.
“Let's get out of here,” said one of the young women I had been speaking to and they left to get out of the police cordon.
Police cars blocked off Macquarie Street, near the NSW Parliament, and parts of College Street. It was a huge, over the top, show of force by the police. I saw three large police dogs.
The police kept goading the protesters by shoving them back in coordinated waves of advance. The protesters were chanting through megaphones.
Then a bottle was thrown by a young man in the protest and the cops started firing pepper spray into the front row of the protest. They also sprayed it up into the crowd. There were cries of anger and “Down, down USA!” chants.
Some young protesters surged forward and the police used more pepper spray. One man was dragged off after he had an allergic reaction to the spray, according to one of the protesters. Two protesters were injured and taken to hospital, said a young woman.
A group of male protesters then formed into a circle, chanting through the megaphone.
They started praying, angry, but determined. The police stayed back as a police helicopter hummed overhead.
Onlookers came to watch the chanting, also watching the police. Young men washed their faces in the Hyde Park fountain, and came back to chant. I saw a young Muslim woman of high school age crying. The media focused on the most provocative fundamentalist placard, but I saw an older woman giving out a leaflet which said: “Islam = peace” and “Mohammed = humble”.
I met an Iraq war veteran at the rally who said he had left the army because of the crimes the occupation troops committed against the Iraqi people. He said that the community had the right to protest without police violence.
Participants in the anti-spying action filmed the police pepper spraying the protesters and the huge line of police.
One person who had marched with the rally since it started at Town Hall and said: “The police didn't let us march where we wanted to go.”
I think that if the police had left the protesters alone they would have marched, chanted and prayed in peace. Instead, the police goaded the protesters, in particular the youth, and so the police are responsible for the clashes that took place.
Their use of pepper spray and truncheons was extremely aggressive and unprovoked. There was no need to surround the rally and charge the protesters and there was no need for the police to come out in such massive force.
The police would be unlikely to have used this level of force against most other protests of 300 to 400 people. But Muslim protesters get different treatment.
Muslims have been scapegoated and criminalised by state and federal governments and the mainstream media. Muslim communities are the target of intense racism and have been made fair game in this country.
Now the protesters, not the police, are being blamed by politicians and the media of the 1% and even more fear and hate is being whipped up against the Muslim population.
We should condemn the police who brutally provoked these protesters and squandered thousands of dollars in a massive show of police repression in the heart of Sydney.
SBS reporter says: "The protests attempted to leave the park peacefully, when the police literally set upon them..."
This eyewitness account, written rapidly after the events on September 15 and based on what the author saw with her own eyes, has generated a large amount of comments, many questioning the account. Below is a comment from Rachel Evans responding to comments.
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To anonymous Sun 16/09/12
Firstly if communities and groups want to protest with a day or two notice, they should be able to. NSW is the only state I know where protest groups need to put in a form into the police 7 days before the protest takes place, and get 'permission.'
It's designed to put groups off protesting. It's anti-democratic.
Not everyone knows how to go about getting such a form, or where to send it. A number of migrant groups I have come in contact with had no idea how to go about putting in such forms.
Such petty paperwork is designed to deter groups, and those using the argument 'they didn't put in the right paperwork' are missing the point. Muslims, Christians, eco-warriors, unionists, any group should have the right to protest without being set upon by police and their dogs.
I didn't agree with all of the placards at the rally. But French philosopher Voltaire was on the mark when he said 'I do not agree with what you have to say, but I'll defend to the death your right to say it.'
In an article ''Sydney riots' less about religion more about democracy' Green Left Weekly author Tim Dobson noted ' Democratic rights are just that. They aren't a tap to be turned on and off... What you think of the rally should be irrelevant when it comes to the question of whether it is repressed or not. Those who celebrate the crackdown are willing to put faith in the police and the state in general to determine what is a legitimate protest or not. That is a very worrying precedent.'
Read the full article here
Finally, police were injured because they escalated a tense situation. A repugnant, Islamophobic 'Innocence of Muslims' video is released within the US which sparkes protests across the Middle East. Cops in Sydney come across a rally with impassioned young Muslim people who are then corraled and cornered, and whose children are set upon by police dogs.
Instead, if police had allowed the march to take place, without intimidation and harassment, and been calm and reasonable the situation would have been diffused.
But that would not have helped justify the war-drive and occupation the US and West have over the Middle East now, would it?
More on why US war crimes are behind Muslim, and Middle East anger here.