John Darroch called today to inform me that the police were starting to round up and arrest protesters, and that they had three paddywagons ready. I turned up at the protest 10 minutes later and it was pretty much all over. John D, John Minto, and three others had been arrested, and everyone else seemed too scared and intimidated to continue protesting.
John D says that the arrests started only 10 minutes after the protest began. Media reports suggest that the sound from the protest was barely audible inside the stadium. Police began by warning those with megaphones to stop using them. Then, from John D’s account:
I got on a megaphone and explained to the police that my understanding was that two recent court decisions protected our right to protest loudly including using a megaphone in a public place. I talked about Rees v Police where a friend (Rochelle/Rocky) had been charged with disorderly conduct for using a megaphone in the CBD and had on appeal won a clear victory. I also made reference to the recent Brooker case which went all the way to the supreme court. I invited the Sergeant in charge of the protest to come over and explain why using a megaphone was disorderly and otherwise based on my understanding of the law I would continue to use the megaphone. All this was clearly audible to the cops who started smiling and laughing as I continued my explanation. On two other occasions I attempted to talk to the senior officer asking him why we could not use Megaphones.
Police arrested John Minto for using a megaphone, and two others for blowing whistles. John D then climbed a tree with his megaphone and began chanting, having been given no explanation as to how it was unlawful.
An officer got a boost up and after struggling for a minute or two made it to the branch I was on. After being asked to come down I passed my megaphone down and jumped down. At no stage was I asked to stop making noise, I was not told to stop using my megaphone, I was only asked to come down ‘For your own safety’.
There is something quite ironic about John D being arrested for climbing a tree to use a megaphone, when Wellington police let him go after he dropped a banner from four stories up the MFAT building only a couple of weeks ago.
One of those arrested is a young woman who has just finished her law degree but hasn’t yet been admitted to the bar. Of course wanting to be a lawyer she is very careful not to get herself into trouble. She was arrested for blowing a whistle, and as she says, the arrest was unlawful because while they had warned those using megphones to stop, they gave her no warning to cease and desist.
I went down to the Auckland Central police station to wait for John D and the others, and a couple of hours later they were released with bail conditions preventing them from being within 500 metres of the protest location. This is a clear breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the precedent set in Bradford v Police  regarding bail conditions.
We then had issues trying to get peoples’ bikes back from where they were chained up near the tennis stadium. A friend and I who weren’t arrested had to walk backwards and forwards 500 metres to get the bikes belonging to those who couldn’t pick them up themselves without breaching bail.
Finally, a few of us came back to my place for a very late lunch and a debrief. I made us all bread and soup, and unfortunately, the young woman who was arrested for blowing a whistle went into anaphylactic shock, as it turns out there were pumpkin seeds in the bread that she is allergic to. We rushed her to the hospital where she is still now under observation. On my way home, I measured the distance between the hospital and the tennis stadium. It seems the young woman is breaking the law and breaching bail by being in hospital.
Today’s events were chillingly similar to those I experienced in 2005 protesting outside a broiler industry conference (events that led to the Rees v Police decision in the High Court, reaffirming the right to use a megaphone at a protest). The police, using their standard unlawful tactics to shut down a protest, arrest the leaders / organisers or those they think are the leaders / organisers. This is done because generally speaking, the rest of the protesters then get scared and comply with unreasonable demands.
At the broiler conference (a week long event), on the Wednesday the police decided arbitrarily that they had had enough. They arrested two protesters (and core organisers) at the morning protest, one for banging on drums, the other for filming. Police gave them a bail condition that they couldn’t go within 500 metres of the hotel they were protesting at, and made their court date the following week so they wouldn’t have a chance to argue the conditions in front of a judge until the protests were over.
That evening, I was arrested for chanting on a megaphone. I was warned to stop about 10 times, but continued as I was sure I wasn’t doing anything unlawful. I was then arrested, and the protest shut down as all the core organisers were now gone. At the police station, they tried to give me the same bail condition and a court date the following week. I told them that I wasn’t going to sign the bail form unless they either removed the condition, or changed my court date to the following day so I could argue the condition in front of a judge. They refused, so I told them I wouldn’t sign the form. They said that meant I wouldn’t get bail, and I said that was fine, I was going to court the next day one way or another, and if they kept me overnight they would be forced to take me in front of judge the following morning. They gave in and changed my court date to the following day.
The next morning I had my bail condition dropped at court, and went back to the hotel to continue protesting that evening. Before we began we had a brief meeting across the road, and I told people the police would do the same thing again, and we had a couple of options. We could ignore police warnings to stop, but I said if that option was chosen we needed most people to agree to keep going and be prepared to be arrested. The other option was to all comply with the police unreasonable demands. Everyone said they were prepared to be arrested.
Not long after the protest started, my ex, the spy, was listening to the police scanner for us and heard my arresting officer from the previous night QP (query person) me to find out if I had any bail conditions. He was hoping to arrest me and was disappointed to hear back that my bail conditions were gone. Then, Senior Sergeant Willie Taylor (now inspector) was heard over the scanner instructing his officers (from the Team Policing Unit) to warn people to stop making all noise, and arrest them if they didn’t comply. The police filled up their two paddywagons with people who were only chanting with their voices (the police had stolen our megaphone), and then realised they had no more room to arrest anyone else. The 15 or so people still left kept going and the police had to give in.
I had two pairs of disposable plastic handcuffs put on me so tight that by the time we got back to the Auckland Central police station, I couldn’t feel my hands at all. When I asked Senior Sergeant Willie Taylor to loosen my handcuffs, he swore at me.
At the police station, the regular cops (non TPU) were very annoyed that the TPU had dropped us off and left them to deal with us. As they said, our noise couldn’t even be heard within the hotel, and the TPU were way over the top. They ensured we got processed very quickly and weren’t charged, so we could go straight back up to the hotel again and keep protesting.
Unfortunately, it is very often the case that police actions at protests are designed purely to disrupt our activities, and have very little to do with securing convictions through the courts. In 2007 I was again arrested for using a megaphone, however the police decided to withdraw the charge on the day of the defended hearing. It is very rare for protesters to be convicted in the few cases that actually make it to a full hearing.