About 1500 people rallied in Sydney on March 8 in protest against the alleged police violence at this year’s Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras.
Bryn Hutchinson, a former co-convener of Community Action Against Homophobia (CAAH), alleges that five police officers slammed him to the ground, kicked him, shackled him and beat him when he tried to cross Oxford St after the parade had finished.
Hutchinson was then taken to Surry Hills police station and charged with “assaulting a police officer”. Hutchinson says he was handcuffed during the alleged attack by the officers.
The original 1978 demonstration that became Mardi Gras was organised in response to police violence and brutality against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LBGTI) people. But this year, on the 35th anniversary of that first demonstration, it appears that not much has changed.
Hutchinson is not the only person accusing police of violence that night. On March 5, video footage was posted on YouTube of another young man who appeared to be thrown to the ground and stood on by a police officer while in handcuffs, as a crowd tried to defend him.
In the video, police can be heard repeatedly ordering the crowd to stop filming. This is despite there being no law restricting people from filming police. The video quickly went viral on the internet and drew a response from community leaders.
Independent Sydney MP Alex Greenwich called for a full police investigation.
Mardi Gars co-chair Peter Urmson expressed his concern: “I have just been made aware of two incidents at this years parade that involves police making arrests that are heavy handed. I have seen a disturbing YouTube video clip of a young guy been brutally arrested. We will look to address at the highest levels within the police force and seek an investigation. My thoughts are with the young persons involved and we will address.”
NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell held a joint press conference with police to announce that the investigation would be carried out by the Ombudsman.
Human rights lawyer Dale Mills responded by saying the Ombudsman is “part of the problem.” The Ombudsman only operates as a “box ticker” who oversees an essentially internal investigation by police.
There have been many high-profile incidents of NSW police violence against LGBTI, Aboriginal or mentally ill people in recent years, and many more that have gone unreported. These include the case of Adam Salter who was shot dead by police in his home in western Sydney, the fatal tasering of Brazilian student Roberto Curti in Sydney’s CBD and the assault of Aboriginal man Corey Barker in a Ballina police cell in 2011.
CAAH has demanded the police officers involved be publicly held accountable.
CAAH said: “We do not want an internal police investigation, whether it is overseen by the Ombudsman or not. Their role is not to investigate, only to see if police investigated according to procedures.
“It is not of any use except to give the police a chance to say that their investigation has received the stamp of approval. We want real justice for the victims and a significant culture change that avoids the 'heavy handed' policing that was widely reported at this year's Mardi Gras.
“Under the Gillard and O’Farrell governments, and the watch of conservative police commissioner Scipione, and following on from post 9/11 paranoia and the police blitz on the occupy movement in 2011/12, senseless violence from the police seems to be on the rise towards a number of minority groups, including Aborigines and Muslims, and the right to protest has also been compromised.
“We demand an end to police violence against the LGBTI community and a full apology to Jamie Jackson and Bryn Hutchinson, and all victims of brutality at Mardi Gras 2013.”
[The protest will be held on March 8 at Taylor Square at 6pm.]