Refugee campaigners condemn police violence at Melbourne protest

RAC Press Release 30th May 2011The Refugee Action Collective has condemned violent and over-the-top tactics by police at a protest at Maribyrnong Detention Centre, which left several protesters in hospital. Around 300 people attended the protest, calling for an end to Mandatory Detention.

After a rally at the detention centre, demonstrators headed down Hampstead Road, which had been agreed to by Victoria Police. It was at this point that police attacked the march without provocation, arresting one demonstrator and subsequently riding horses into the crowds. Two people were taken to hospital after a horse fell on top of people whilst charging the crowd.

Daniella Olea, one of the protest organisers, said: “The Police provocation and violence was completely uncalled for. They were aware of the route of the march as I myself liaised with the Sergeant in charge. We were on the side of the road suggested by police and we had marshals on site directing people on the agreed route to Highpoint Shopping Centre. The police were fully aware of our intentions to march.”

“The excessive intimidating presence of police on horseback, police dogs and riot police shows unnecessary force on people expressing their concerns and their right to protest” said Olea, who is a spokesperson for the Refugee Action Collective.

After police refused to let the ambulance in if the protest stayed on the road, they eventually let the ambulance in and the two protesters were taken to hospital.

The protest marched to Highpoint shopping centre and unfurled a banner hung on helium balloons reading “free the refugees”.



I was at this protest and the protestors did nothing to provoke the over the top actions of the police. We were peacefully marching down Hampstead Rd when they began to ride their horses into people and began to get violent. We were peacefully marching and showing our support for the asylum seekers who are currently locked up in the Maribyrnong Detention Centre. As Daniella said the excessive and intimidating pressence that they police were trying to have over the protestors was totally uncalled for.

I was also at this protest and was really disappointed with the way that RAC and other protesters responded to police presence. While I agree the police presence was intimidating and perhaps over the top, when they rode their horses close to the crowed their aim was to protect the protesters and keep them to the left hand side of the road. The protester who was arrested forced himself on the police horse and provoked the arrest.
The protesters immediate reaction was to turn on the police. To me this immediate loss of sight and redirection of their passion undermined the cause which we were there for, to end mandatory detention of refugees. With chants up their sleave, "this is not a police state", the protest became about the arrest and not about the far more serious injustices that refugees are suffering in our country.
A powerful protest is a peaceful one, and the reactions of RAC and Socialist Alliance were certainly not peaceful, they were full of aggression which of course fuelled the police. Regardless of whether the police acted responsibly, as activists we should have the intelligence to respond in a non-violent way.
I would like to be able to attend a protest a know that I will be there fore refugees and not suddenly be fighting for a different cause.

While it is true that the original intention of the protest was not to make a statement against unneccessary police violence, and for our right to demonstrate, the point remains that we cannot stand by when people are injured by police who then threaten to prevent ambulance access. It is important that we stand up for our right to have our voice heard in a democratic country, in order to - and not in lieu of - standing up for the rights of others who our government is oppressing.
I was also at the protest, and I witnessed one protester pushing against the police horses as they tried to force him behind the white line onto the lefthand side of the road. This single action does not excuse injury to three other protestors, or the subsequent police behaviour.

I have to correct the above comment. The protester who was arrested (and released without charge) did not 'force himself on the the police horse" at all. The man was walking with the other protesters and became trapped in between 2 police horses either side of him when the police tried to 'corral' him into the middle of the street. When the man tried to run out of the way of danger the police intentionally directed the horses to converge with the intention to trample him. If the horse was touched at all it was in defense of the mans own safety from being trampled. Come on who really believes that in man vs horse that the horse is in any danger?
it is incorrect of you to say that protesters were 'full of agression" which "fuelled the police" (where you actually there?). If there was any agression from the protesters this came AFTER the police's unnecessary brutality. Non violence is all well and good but how would you respond to having an animal used on you as a weapon? Will you lie down and take the trampling?
I absolutely agree with you that the protest should be for the refugees and this is exactly why the police have used these heavy handed tactics to distract us all from the real issue of refugees. This does not mean we should give up and accept this brutal behaviour without a word. You have presented a false dichotomy. We can protest for the rights of refugees, and at the same time refuse to accept police violence perpetrated in defense of the governments indefensible treatment of refugees, without creating a moral conflict.