Long-time human rights activist Stephen Langford was arrested, strip searched and held for 24 hours at the Surry Hills police lock-up on June 18, charged with defacing the Governor Lachlan Macquarie statue in Hyde Park.
His “crime” was to paste — with craft glue — a sheet of paper with from Macquarie on the monument: “All Aborigines from Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners of war, and if they resist they are to be shot and their bodies to be hung from trees in the most conspicuous places near where they fall so as to strike fear into the hearts of surviving natives.”
The then-New South Wales Governor was responsible for giving orders that led to the 1816 Appin Massacre of the Gundagarra and Dharrawhal First Nations people.
Langford’s arrest comes as a discussion erupts worldwide, influenced by the Black Lives Matter movement in the United States, about how to deal with statues of prominent slaveowners and politicians who have been responsible for racist policies. Removing colonialist statues altogether, elaborating on their history and replacing them with popular civil rights and Indigenous leaders are part of this important discussion that right-wingers deride as a “cancel culture”.
Former NSW Greens Senator Lee Rhiannon, Jews Against the Occupation activist Vivienne Porzsolt and myself spoke in support of Langford outside the Downing Centre courts on July 6, where his case was mentioned and adjourned until August 17.
Langford, who is facing three charges, described his “nightmare” time in the Surry Hills watchhouse. He was initially taken to the Surry Hills police station, and then to the lock-up, when bail had been refused. Then he was strip-searched, a degrading experience, he said.
Langford is angry at the way he was treated, but he is also concerned about those people who end up in cells simply because they are marginalised. He said the cell was cold and draughty, with an open toilet. “No respect. No clock. No natural light and our own watches and phones had been taken away.” The authorities have “created a place to completely demoralise the residents, the people already marginalised”, he said.
Eventually, Langford was taken before a magistrate who almost impatiently described the charges as being “weak” as there was no evidence that he had in any way “damaged” the statue. But it was 20 hours until he was freed on bail. “Later, my lawyer told me that the charges were ‘worse than weak’.”