Several people were arrested on July 28 for “gathering for a common purpose” after the NSW Police deemed that purpose to be illegal. This is what we were told by NSW Police, who threatened more of us with arrest as we were dispersing through Hyde Park.
Of course, a gathering on a rainy Tuesday lunchtime was always going to attract a smaller number of people compared to the tens of thousands who turned up for Black Lives Matter rally on Sunday June 6.
Nonetheless, NSW Police pulled out all stops arriving in the CBD en masse with dogs, horse floats and riot squad cars. They arrested six people, including Padraic Gibson, one of the organisers, who were given fines. No one was charged.
Later in the day the Dungay family presented a petition, signed by more than 100,000 people, to Greens MPs, which called on SafeWork NSW and the Department of Public Prosecutions to investigate and hold accountable the Department of Corrective Services, Justice and Health and any individual responsible for David’s death.
Leetona Dungay and her family have been bravely campaigning for justice for the 2015 death in custody of her son David. He died after six prison guards stormed his cell and dragged out the diabetic after he did not follow their order to stop eating biscuits.
The 26-year-old Dunghutti man was dragged into another cell and wrestled onto a bed. CCTV footage shows multiple guards kneeling on Dungay’s back as he called out: “I can’t breathe”. He was injected with a sedative and moments later stopped breathing.
The Dungay family had earlier said that they would call off the protest if the NSW Premier acted. They are not satisfied with the inquest that found none of the officers would be charged.
The Supreme Court had ruled in favour of the NSW Police demand that the protest not be given legal protection, ostensibly on health grounds.
But, like about 100 others, I wanted to show respect for the Dungay family who had called for the protest to happen in a safe way if the NSW government had not responded to their calls for action.
The massive police operation, outnumbering protesters three to one, was an exercise in social control, rather than any concern about people’s health. It would seem that NSW Police Minister David Elliot’s pride was on the line. He was determined to impose his authority and stop this rally — especially as the NSW Supreme Court had given the already massive June rally the go-ahead just minutes before it formally started.
For at least a week, a hysterical public campaign has been waged against the Dungay family and the protest organisers by the NSW Coalition government and the Murdoch media.
NSW police chief Michael Fuller told shock jock radio host Ben Fordham, before the Supreme Court hearing into the permit for the gathering, that he had already given instructions to block it. He described protesters as “selfish”.
Judge Mark Ierace said he was concerned that Fuller did not give “genuine consideration” to the protest application, which had included a COVID-19 safety plan, but accepted the police argument that the possibility of community transmission of COVID-19 made the event too risky.
Elliot is not without controversy. He likes machine guns, having been photographed at a rifle range firing one despite them being illegal in NSW. He’s used parliamentary privilege to raise an allegation about sexual abuse, despite the complainant insisting the incident remain confidential. He has supported police conducting strip searches on young women, saying he would support the same happening to his children if “they were at risk of doing something wrong”. And, despite being the Emergency Services Minister, he went to Europe as the Black Summer fires hit NSW last year.
If Elliot gets his way, coronavirus will be used as cover to make NSW a police state.
Gathering, safely, for a common purpose is not a crime. Aboriginal people being killed in custody is, and the culprits must be brought to justice.
[For more information and to help the campaign, go to Justice for David Dungay Jr on Facebook. This article was updated on July 29.]