Jafri’s one-person campaign against racism

Jafri Alexandra X has been conducting a one-person crusade against racism in Melbourne for almost two years. He is well known as the person who holds a “stop” sign with “Stop Racism Now” on it every Friday afternoon outside Flinders Street Station.

This interview with Jafri and Dilman Ramadan was broadcast on 3CR's Solidarity Breakfast show on October 1. 

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Jafri

I'm called Jafri and I came to Australia in September 2005. I came as a refugee from Uganda and I tried to settle into this country.

I began my campaign against racism because in 2014, I was racially vilified, mocked and humiliated by a doctor at the Royal Dental Hospital in Melbourne. I complained to the hospital through their website and the hospital did not respond to me.

So I decided to take the case to the Health Services Commissioner. The Health Services Commissioner contacted the hospital and asked them about my complaint. The hospital denied that anything happened. So, after some time the Health Services Commissioner said to close the case as the hospital kept denying it.

So then there was nobody helping me. I was frustrated. I had been racially harassed. I had been mistreated at the hospital. So, I decided to take my case to Australian Human Rights Commission. They told me that because the case had been looked at by the Health Services Commissioner, they could not look at the case. So they rejected the case.

The hospital denied that I was mistreated, the Health Services Commissioner couldn't help me and the Human Rights Commission couldn't help me. I was very frustrated. I didn't have money to pay a lawyer to go to the court. So, I decided to go to the hospital. And make signs.

Stop racism now

I made some signs that said “Stop racism now” and started protesting right in front of the hospital. I protested for a few weeks and then the head of the hospital, and some other medical staff came and apologised to me. They said that they’re very sorry for what I've experienced.

I told them: “For a very long time, you denied that anything happened. You guys are now apologising. I need an apology letter and also compensation for the pain caused to me.” So, they sent me an apology letter.

I also gave them some demands. I told them they have to train their staff on how to talk to people of different colour. They told me they're going to do all those things that I've asked them to do. But, they did not give me the compensation.

I decided that the hospital has apologised, so I have to stop protesting at the hospital. But I said to myself: “I have to fight the bigger problem, which is racism.” I said to myself I have to fight racism in the whole country. I decided to take my campaign against racism from the hospital, to Flinders Street Station. That's how my campaign started.

But, without the incident at the hospital, I wouldn't have become the person I am now. I wouldn't have become an activist. So, everything started at the hospital.

On Friday September 23, I was there doing what I do every Friday. I'm standing there with my sign at the intersection. A lot of people take photos and post them on Facebook.

Sometimes people think I'm blocking the traffic, you know, standing on the road or blocking cars. But, that's not the case. Before I started my campaign, I asked permission from the police and they said: “You're okay to be there”. They gave me instructions on how to be safe on the intersection and said: “Just do not block people crossing. Do not interfere with traffic.”

Police pepper spray

I was following their guidelines. Most of the police who come there understand that. They say this guy knows what he is doing. So they do not disturb me. But some police officers who see me for the first time, want to move me out of there.

So, last Friday, the police came and told me to leave the spot where I was standing. I said to them: "No. I'm not doing anything wrong. I've got permission from the police to be here." They said” "No! You have to leave! You have to leave!" They weren't listening to me, so they tried to pull my hand. I said, "No! You cannot move me from here." Then I was pepper sprayed, arrested and taken to the police station.

The pepper spray burnt me too much — on my face, on my neck, my arms, it burnt me. It burnt me so much. Once we got to the police station, the police spent almost an hour pouring water on my face. They kept pouring water, water, water, until after an hour, I started to feel better. But my face was on fire. It's like they poured acid on my face. It was really burning me and it was too much.

Before they pepper sprayed me, they said: "We're going to arrest you." But after they poured the water and I said I'm feeling better, they said: “You're free to go”. They told me I shouldn't go back there. But I said: "No. I am going to go back there because I wasn't doing anything wrong. You guys are wrong.” That's what I told them.

Dilmen

That Friday afternoon I was at the Socialist Alliance stall at Flinders Street Station. It was also the first day Jafri had held the “Say no to Pauline Hanson's racism” sign as well. An interesting coincidence.

I happened to look over and I saw three police officers approach Jafri and I thought I’d better get my camera out because I had a feeling something was going to happen. It's always good to have this stuff recorded in case you need it in the future.

I can say the pepper spray was definitely not used as a last resort. It was pulled out within seconds of police officers approaching Jafri. I was shaken. To be honest, hours after the incident Jafri was calmer than I was, because I was so shocked by what I saw.

I was the one person who was able to video record the incident and put it on Facebook. It went viral. I was surprised at how many people had viewed and shared the video. But, within minutes of the video reaching Facebook, there was a rally beginning to be organised in support of Jafri. I'm not actually sure who organised the rally though.

The next day, which was a Saturday, at 5 o'clock people gathered at Flinders Street Station in support of Jafri and to protest against the actions of Victoria Police on the day before. There were a few speakers, including Les Thomas, a singer and a First Nations activist. We also had a Welcome to Country by a young woman, Yaremin, who is also an Indigenous activist.

After the speeches we moved to the intersection where Jafri usually protests and where he was arrested. Jafri had requested an apology from Victoria Police. I also spoke at that rally and demanded the police officer responsible be sacked from the police force. That rally also received pretty good media attention, particularly in The Age newspaper. So, I'm glad we were able to get our message across that afternoon.

Jafri

I was very happy with the way people responded. It showed me that I'm not alone in this fight. It showed me that there are a lot of people out there who support me. I was very happy to see hundreds of people coming.

I told them that I hadn't done anything wrong. It is Victoria Police that is wrong. And I'm going to go back and I told them if you want to follow me, you're free to come. So, people followed me and I went to the spot where I usually stand. I did ask the police to apologise, but they just looked at me and then they just moved away.

But, I was happy with the turnout of people. It showed me that a lot of people are concerned about the racism that is happening here in our society.

Maybe it is a coincidence that I was arrested on the first day I held up an anti-Hanson placard. But it is also very suspicious. Maybe it was Pauline Hanson supporters who sent the police to keep me away from there.

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