Welcome to our second bi-weekly roundup and the eighth since our project began taking reports.
To begin: COVIDPolicing’s open letter is now open requesting all Federal, State, and Territories to release data on COVID stops and infringements and was cited by SBS. The article finds that Victoria Police has almost five times the number of COVID fines than NSW Police.
Debate has continued on issues of systemic bias in policing (see comment below). Data helps us independently monitor how and where stops and fines during COVID are carried out.
We are calling on all State/Territory and Federal police to release de-identified data on:
- The number of stops police have conducted under COVID-19 restrictions;
- The number of fines that have been issued under COVID-19 restrictions;
- Move on orders that have been given under COVID-19 restrictions;
- The postcode locations of these stops, fines and move-on orders;
- The demographics, including the perceived race, of people that have been stopped, fined or ordered to move-on; and
- The reasons officers have stated for their decision to stop, fine, or order a person to move-on.
For more information on our open letter or for your organisation to sign on, please write to [email protected].
Meanwhile, the rate of COVIDPolicing incident reports continues to decrease this week, with just two reports published today—one from Queensland, and the other from Victoria. More on those below.
Despite the decrease in reports, COVID cases continue to increase in Australia, with 83 percent of last week’s cases recorded in Victoria. Australia’s chief medical officer says it is unlikely this is a ‘second wave’ related to the 6 June Black Lives Matter protest, which was organised by the Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR) in consultation with the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service.
Following the protest, WAR have been subject to high-profile attacks and condemnation in the media. Melbourne Activist Legal Support published a strong statement in solidarity and support of WAR, and in support of the right to protest generally. In a separate statement, the Human Rights Law Centre drew a clear connection between colonisation, black deaths in custody, and the democratic right to protest:
‘Instead of committing to systemic change to keep Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people out of prisons and end Black deaths in custody, Prime Minister Scott Morrison called for Black Lives Matter protesters to be arrested and charged for exercising their democratic right. He did this just days before announcing football stadiums with crowds of 10,000 would be reopening next month.’
Instead of being transmitted through public protests, most new cases are thought to be related to family gatherings in Melbourne. The Victorian government has reduced such household gatherings to a maximum of five people. The Premier threatened another lockdown if restrictions are not obeyed. The potential for another lockdown will likely have an impact on policing.
SUMMARY OF COVIDPOLICING REPORTS
a person attended protests in solidarity with refugees detained at a Brisbane hotel. The reported that police presence was large, they estimated 30 officers for a group of 60 protesters, and felt “unnecessarily intimidating”
a person wrote in to the site after attending a religious service. The service was re-opened to the public in line with the easing of restrictions. Police attended the premises twice during the service. The person writing in believed that police were friendly to the staff but that the repeated presence made people feel anxious and wondered if there was another way they could have reminded organisers about the requirements for physical distancing.
Unfortunately, we have had a spike in our website reporting tool as a vehicle for people to tell us that what we are doing is wrong and that we should “be ashamed of ourselves” for running this site. We stand firm in being a space for people share concerns about police behaviour and potential misconduct, and that there should be independent places for society to do so. We will continue to facilitate and advocate for open and transparent analyses of the ways in which this pandemic has been policed, with a focus on the social and economic consequences of policing across the states.
IN THE NEWS
National: Following advice from the World Health Organisation that a vaccine could be two-and-a-half years away, Health Minister Greg Hunt stated that the international border will be closed ‘for a very significant time.’
Western Australia: WA will ease restrictions to ‘phase 4’ on Saturday. All existing limits to gatherings will be removed, though people will be required to stand at a distance of 2 square metres from one another. Following the increase in cases in Victoria, WA has not set a date for the reopening of its border.
New South Wales: Similarly, NSW residents are being advised not to travel to Victorian ‘hotspots.’ Meanwhile, a nursing home in Western Sydney became the second-deadliest cluster in Australia, accounting for almost a fifth of national COVID deaths.
Victoria: Two schools in Melbourne hotspot areas of Brunswick and Keilor were closed after students tested positive. The Premier threatened another lockdown if new restrictions are not followed, and announced that an ‘army’ of public health team doornockers will provide in-person information to residents around Victoria. The new restrictions will last for at least three weeks. In Melbourne, a socially-distanced and public health-oriented protest organised by Extinction Rebellion went ahead on 20 June, with no public health fines given.
Queensland: the Premier also stated that borders may not reopen as expected on 10 July. Protests against the treatment of refugees are expected to continue. Also in Queensland, protestors have camped outside the Kangaroo Point Hotel for the last week, demanding the release of asylum seekers. A thousand protestors gathered on Sunday in contradiction with a police order that the protest be limited to two hours and avoid Main Street in Brisbane’s CBD. The Premier also warned against attending the protest because of COVID. A police spokesperson said there had been one arrest in connection with the protests. 9News reports two arrests (see video).
South Australia: from next Monday, social distancing will be reduced from one person per four square metres to two square metres, in line with changes made in Western Australia. Additional police will be placed on SA’s border with Victoria.
Tasmania: restrictions were lifted last week. Eighty people may attend indoor and outdoor gatherings, and people are required to follow the four square metre rule. Household gatherings are now allowed a maximum of 20 people. The changes will be reviewed on 26 June, with the expectation that outdoor crowds of 500 will be allowed.
Northern Territory: borders are set to reopen on 17 July. Borders will be manned by NT Police and the Australian Defence Force for the two weeks following the opening of the border, to ensure visitors comply with track and trace measures. The NT was the first Australian jurisdiction to clinically eliminate COVID.
INTERNATIONAL COVID POLICING NEWS
Germany: A residential building in Göttingen housing 700 people was sealed off by police after residents tested positive for COVID. Two-hundred residents tried to get out, attacking police with fireworks, bottles, and metal bars. Eight officers were injured. One person was detained and released after questioning.
England: anti-racist protests continued in London last week, with far-right protestors counter-demonstrating. The far-right counter-protesters assembled in central London, stating they were protecting statues from anti-racists. A man was charged after urinating on one of the statues under his protection.
The far-right counter protesters also attacked police, which was denounced as ‘racist thuggery’ with more than 100 arrested.
France: after three hours of protest at an anti-racist action in Paris, riot police used capsicum spray and charged at protestors.
Switzerland: 10,000 marched in Zurich last week. Police stated that despite restrictions limiting gatherings to 300 people, they would allow a ‘peaceful’ protest. When the main crowd dispersed, about 300 protestors threw objects at the police. Capsicum spray was used, and several people were detained.
COMMENT ON RECENT DEBATES IN POLICING AND SYSTEMIC BIAS
A site monitoring policing during the pandemic would be remiss if we didn’t turn our minds to the important debates regarding policing and systems of law and law enforcement being amplified around the world.
Black Lives Matter protests continue in Australia and worldwide, with some cities reaching three weeks of continuous protest in the US. Their effects have been profound. Minneapolis City Council voted to ‘dismantle’ their city’s police department, and several ‘autonomous zones’ have been created across the US—the most notable of these is the CHAZ in Seattle. New York City Council is discussing cuts of USD$1 billion from a budget of USD$6 billion. In Los Angeles, the police budget could be reduced by USD$150 million, which would still leave the LAPD with access to 51 percent of the city’s unrestricted revenue.
Important debate regarding police reform versus abolition is entering the mainstream media worldwide. This debate also highlights regular concerns regarding systemic bias in institutions like law and law enforcement. It raises the important question of how we view ourselves as a community.
Recently, here in Australia, Rio Tinto destroyed a 46,000 year-old Aboriginal site to expand a mine—an act not directly related to policing, but related to how and whether sectors of our society are valued. These values are echoed in our institutions. As the Mayor of Bristol in the United Kingdom recognises: ‘There’s no institution in the country that isn’t institutionally racist.’ The statement clangs loudly against a claim made by the New Zealand Police Commissioner that while unconscious bias exists in police officers, there is no systemic racism in the police. It makes us ask: is it not the system rather than the individual?
The Commissioner’s claim was made amidst the rejection of armed patrol units, after evidence of mismanagement of their trial period enraged the public: fifty-percent of those arrested during the trial were Māori, who make up 16 percent of New Zealand’s population. Data was also incorrectly collected.
A week after Rio Tinto expanded their mine, an all-white panel with no personal experience of racism and discrimination discussed racism and discrimination on Insiders. Debate on the history and ongoing effects of colonialism in Australia continued, with Scott Morrison incorrectly claiming ‘there was no slavery in Australia.’ In a strangely timed announcement a week later, the government announced a plan to increase the cost of humanities degrees (including history degrees) by 113 percent, while reducing overall funding to the sector. Understanding colonialism and how our history effects institutions today is connected to the way those institutions are perceived by the public, and it is connected to the ways in which those institutions are allowed to function.
We do not claim that systemic bias is confined to policing. But systemic bias was a concern for us in setting up this site—to be aware of bias and monitor whether it creeps into the policing of the pandemic. It’s why we are calling for greater and more transparent policing data. We’re here for the debate. We hope you are too.
From 1 July to 30 July, Community Legal Centres Australia is holding a webinar series. The series will focus on day-to-day issues like returning to the office, as well as strategies adopted by the sector to hold governments accountable for human rights violations and murders by police.
Covidpolicing.org.au is collaborative project is run by legal and human rights advocacy organisations, backed up by a network of policing academics around Australia.
Previous weekly round-ups can be found here.
These weekly round-ups are summaries only and do not necessarily represent the views of all project partners in entirety .
We thank all people who have taken the time to make a report and to all those who have contributed, supported, shared or promoted this project.
For more information about the project please see: https://covidpolicing.org.au/about/
If you would like to contact any of the partners in this project, you can reach us by e-mail at [email protected].