“There is a saying amongst them that all cops are bastards,” Liberal Democrat Senator David Leyonhjelm said on November 3 about the attitude of many fans of the Western Sydney Wanderers football (soccer) team towards the police force. “The cops have earned that label, they have to un-earn it.”
Leyonhjelm was speaking after a hearing as part of a Senate inquiry into extreme over-policing and police harassment of Wanderers fans. It heard from the Wanderers club, representatives of Parramatta council (who adopted a unanimous motion supporting Wanderers fans and criticising police), representatives of the Wanderers' Red and Black Bloc (RBB) active support group and NSW police.
Anyone familiar with police treatment of Wanderers fans could only agree that the Senator's comments were pure common sense. Wanderers fans, largely multicultural and working class, are subjected to extremely heavy policing that makes them feel like criminals for attending a sporting event. Some fans have complained their small children have been patted down by police or security at games.
It is well known police bring out horses, the riot squad and — in extreme cases — even police helicopters to Wanderers games. The Senate hearing heard that NSW police even routinely deploy Strike Force Raptor — set up to deal with criminal bikie gangs — against Wanderers fans.
I know from my own experience how police can treat Wanderers fans. At a game in March, a police sergeant shoved me off a chair I was standing on, unprovoked, then violently dragged me out, arrested me for assaulting a police officer and banned me from Parramatta Stadium for 12 months.
The legal firm representing me subpoenaed the CCTV footage, which clearly showed the officer pushing me off the chair, but somehow entirely missed my alleged “assault”.
When the matter finally came to trial last month, the officer who arrested me — and was also the prosecution's sole witness in a stadium crowded with fans, police and security — failed to show up.
He was, in his own words, “on holiday in a remote location”.
The magistrate threw the case out and awarded me full legal costs — which were, of course, paid for by the taxpayer. I know of two other cases where Wanderers fans were found guilty of charges similar to mine in situations without CCTV footage — where it came down to the word of police versus Wanderers fans, so routinely demonised by sections of the media. I believe, if not for CCTV footage, I could well have been found guilty — the technicality of my actual innocence notwithstanding.
The Senate hearing also came off the back of infamous attempts by police to impose widely ridiculed restrictions on the RBB — including banning pre-game marches (something police have no power to do), banning jumping side to side in the stadium and even banning clapping above your head.
In the face of widespread outrage, police retreated. But it is not hard to see why Wanderers fans might not be feeling in much of a mood to hug a representative of the NSW Police. When police can hospitalise a kid (in an unprovoked attack with pepper-spray) with impunity, then “bastards” actually seems quite polite.
And this is without even considering far worse police behaviour to other sectors — such as Aboriginal people. After all, police may have hospitalised a 14-year-old Wanderers fan when they indiscriminately pepper-sprayed the RBB section at a Wanderers game in April, but no RBB member is yet to die in police custody. Tragically, the same cannot be said for hundreds of Aboriginal people in recent years.
Despite a seeming breakthrough at the hearing, where representatives of the RBB and police agreed to meet in a bid to improve dialogue and overcome persistent problems, the Police Association of NSW (PANSW) weighed in with a hysterically over-the-top statement that was equal parts absurd, offensive and very, very funny.
In a furious November 4 statement, PANSW president Scott Weber twice abused Wanderers fans as “grubs” and even suggested, with Leyonhjelm having the gall to repeat the “bastard” allegation, that the elected upper house be abolished.
“Maybe it's time to re-think if the people of Australia need a Senate at all,” the enraged PANSW head spat.
Maybe he has a point. If an elected representative can repeat a phrase used widely around the world that is critical of police, in a bid to encourage police to improve their behaviour, then it is pretty clear democracy has gone way too far.
Perhaps a reform to ensure all Senate candidates are personally endorsed by police could improve our democratic system? I am sure a fact-finding trip to Sisi's Egypt might throw up a few suggestions as to how to use security forces to ensure “undesirables” can be kept out of high office.
The statement was a dummy spit on a huge scale — and like all good tantrums, it lacks any sense of proportion. After all, police are the ones who actually wield the power.
They have horses, batons, pepper spray, Tasers and even guns. As I found out, they can arrest you on a whim then not even show up in court, having subjected you to half a year of stress, worry and potentially large financial costs.
In response, all football fans have is their words — which explains why some Wanderers fans love that saying. Seemingly powerless in other ways, they can at least stick their finger up to authorities that treats them like shit.
And yet mere words repeated by a senator is enough to send the PANSW president into meltdown. Presumably his mother never taught him the old saying: “Sticks and stones may break your bones, but words can never hurt you.”
You get the distinct impression that having issued the statement, Weber retreated to his bedroom, locked the door and played The Smiths at high volume — tears rolling down his cheeks as Morrissey crooned “I am huuuuuman and I need to be looooooooved, just like everybody else does…”
Of course, it wasn't long before cynical, point-scoring politicians jumped in.
Immigration minister and ex-police officer Peter Dutton condemned Leyonhjelm's “bastards” comment as “a slap in the face”. Because when I want a lecture on morality, the first person I ask is the guy overseeing a system that tortures innocent children in isolated prison camps condemned by the United Nations as “hellholes”.
Then Philip Ruddock, of all people, weighed in to condemn the “anti-police” sentiments. Presumably, the actual architect of the whole “torturing children in prison camps” policy felt there just weren't enough bastards defending bastards upset at being called bastards.
Much like the way Wanderers fans recently trolled commercial TV news channels seeking footage from the recent derby against Sydney FC to sensationalise, Wanderers fans on Twitter began changing their user names to include “grub” to mock the PANSW.
But the best response came from Leyonhjelm himself, who responded to police and media criticism by tweeting: “My advice to Ray Hadley and anyone concerned about being called a bastard, including coppers, is don't be a bastard.”
[Carlo Sands is a Wanderers supporter and grub.]