End police harassment and support freedom of speech

March 5, 2023
Stephen Langford and the words of Govenor Lachlan Macquarie. Graphic: Green Left

There’s an old Cyndi Lauper’s song, “Money changes everything”. But I know it is solidarity that changes everything.

As many others have, I have recently endured the brutality and isolation of Goulburn Street lock-up. I swore as I left it I would do my best to have it closed down, to stop Protective Service Officers from brutalising themselves and the vulnerable people who go through its doors.

I was transferred there from Day Street Police Station on March 3, after being picked up at the student climate strike.

I was strip-searched, as is their wretched normal, and I cooperated. But I would not take off my watch as it was a present from my children and, in the cells, there is no way of telling the time. There is no daylight. It is completely disorientating.

One of the police at Day Street told me I should take it off at Goulburn Street lock-up otherwise they would hurt me and break my watch. They did both.

Three officers wrestled me to the floor after I was handcuffed. One was the Officer in Charge. None of the Corrective Services people wore identification. One knelt on my back. I shouted “Take it off!” as they painfully pulled my left wrist back which made it impossible to take the watch off my hand.

I called out that I could not breathe. I thought of David Dungay jnr and George Floyd. It would have been a terrible way to die.

In the dirty isolated cell (they had turned off the buzzer and shut off the view into the corridor) I thought about this and the brutalisation of Julian Assange in London's Belmarsh Prison.

I wondered how previous cell inmates had managed to write on the walls. I tried to write “Free Assange” with the black soles of my boots, but it didn't work.

The police kept me in solitary confinement for three hours after my bail restrictions had been lifted: I should have been released.

Thanks to wonderful lawyers who value freedom of speech, the New South Wales Police-imposed 2-kilometre radius around Sydney Town Hall bail restriction circle was lifted.

I told the lock-up staff that I would work to close the place down, so they would stop brutalising themselves and, more importantly, the people who come through its doors. It is dirty and the staff are rude and cruel. People have died there.

I was put there because I breached impossible bail restrictions. I put Governor Lachlan Macquarie’s own words, authorising the Appin massacre, on an A4 sheet and pasted it to his statue in Hyde Park.

Macquarie said: “All Aborigines form Sydney onwards are to be made prisoners of war and if they resist they are to be shot and their bodies hung from trees in the most conspicuous places near where they fall so as to strike fear into the heard of surviving natives.”

He gave the order in 1816 as reprisal for First Nations people fighting back on farms on the Western Plains. History reports that 14 Dharawal and Gandangara people were killed: it was probably many more.

Austria, from where my father escaped, was never de-Nazified as (West) Germany was, after the war. Still, Austria does not have statues of people who ordered massacres, as far as I know. Sydney does: the statue of Governor Macquarie was unveiled in 2013.

As David Rovics sings in the Ballard of Lachlan Macquarie:  

Half of Sydney is named after him:
Everybody learns his name in school.
Just don't put his words upon his statue:
If you do, his defenders might arrest you.'

I believe we should put Macquarie’s words on his statue. Then we can decide if we really want him memorialised or have a resistance leader, such as Pemulwuy, in his place. Or someone else? It should be the decision of the people who have never ceded the land.

[Stephen Langford is a member of Socialist Alliance. He is facing court for seven graffiti offences at Sydney's Downing Centre on April 5.]

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