The police have a number of different strategies for dealing with protest marches. Each has its own known likely result and the police choose their strategy depending on the desired outcome. Yesterday’s mass arrests were not the police responding to something they did not expect to happen. They went into it with a plan to shut down the protest and they had the numbers and infrastructure they needed to achieve that aim right from the outset. Even paddywagons and the larger police trucks to transport prisoners were ready. It will be interesting to read the police briefing documents when they are eventually available through the Official Information Act. Unfortunately the police well know that by the time they are forced to hand them over the story will no longer be newsworthy.
In 2004/2005 Senior Sergeant Willie Taylor was in charge of the Auckland Team Policing Unit (TPU), the unit concerned with policing big protest marches. During that time the TPU had one consistent strategy for dealing with protest marches, especially anti-war marches. During each march, peaceful up until this point, the TPU would single out who they considered to be the protest leader, usually the person with the megaphone. Half a dozen police officers would brutally jump on and drag this protester away. The end result was always the same – a protest march that was prior to this point peaceful would immediately turn into a mini-riot and clash between protesters and police. Many people would be arrested but to my knowledge there were never any convictions in court.
After the first brutal arrest the mood change in the crowd was always so sudden. People would get angry at the injustice and a sort of mob-mentality would ensue. While I don’t even in these circumstances condone any violence from protesters, it has to be said that the police knew exactly what they were doing and what reaction they would provoke. This was their desired outcome every time.
Around 2006 Senior Sergeant Willie Taylor was promoted to Inspector and transferred to a different police unit. The following years displayed a marked shift in police strategy when dealing with protest marches in Auckland. All of a sudden you could go to a protest and march up the road without any conflict or confrontation. This didn’t meant that the police would just let protesters do anything – they would often control the crowd effectively using a number of different methods, including:
It is a rarity for protesters to bother getting a permit. It is pretty normal for police to be notified of a protest in advance by the organisers. It has been shown (by the lack of charges or convictions for blocking a road) that neither a permit nor police notification is actually a requirement.
One protest I helped organise was the march against the ACC cuts to counselling for sexual abuse survivors in 2009. We didn’t notify police in advance and were halfway through the march when they finally arrived. The police were immediately really helpful in directing traffic and making us feel safe. The Sergeant in charge that day spoke to me and requested that we notify police in future, but admitted that it was not a requirement. I explained to him that if the police could be trusted to consistently behave the way they had that day then we would have no qualms about doing so in future. When police behave as they did yesterday it should be no surprise when protesters are reluctant to ask for their help.
Over the last year or so I have wondered if the Auckland TPU leadership has changed once again. Up until last week the police seemed to have adopted a new strategy of just leaving the protesters to it, even if there was trouble. After the eviction of the Occupy Camp from Aotea Square there was a march up Queen Street. John Darroch reports that the protest group was pretty small and they were clearly looking for trouble.
Protesters were confronting members of the public, attempting to block intersections without enough people to make it safe, running into banks and yelling, knocking over the fences in Aotea Square and generally causing mischief.
Through the entirety of the protest police in small numbers just watched on. They didn’t even warn anyone for disorderly behaviour.
At the student protest last week police managed and directed traffic but otherwise didn’t intervene in any way. There was a police motorbike up the front blocking the intersection. There was one senior officer and two constables standing near the protest just watching on and communicating with headquarters.
That night there was a protest outside Mt Eden prison after the sentencing of the Operation 8 defendants. Around 40 or so protesters were chanting with placards in the small private road leading into the prison. As the protest went on police started turning up in such huge numbers that the protesters were scared enough to call the protest off.
Yesterday’s student protest began at 3pm and began marching up Symonds Street. They stopped at the Symonds Street overbridge for some speeches on the megaphone. A sociology lecturer was addressing the crowd. All of a sudden police started moving in and made it clear that they intended to shut down the march and get protesters off the road. In response the protesters sat down as it makes it more difficult for police to move people or drag them away.
I’ve heard many complaints in the comments on this blog that protesters were blocking a busy road during peak hour traffic. If police had not attempted to shut down the march it would probably have been all over by peak hour. If not, police had a range of options open to them for how to move the protest along.
The police targeted protest leaders and photographers. I have no doubt that police expected and intended for the crowd to fight back. I’m really proud that the protesters remained peaceful while at the same time standing their ground. In none of the footage I’ve seen is there any violence on the part of the protesters, despite the excessive force used by police in arresting people.
Once the road had been cleared the protesters converged on a grassy area off the road opposite the business school and were kettled in by police. Omar Hamed addressed the crowd on a megaphone from within the protest. He was calling on the protesters to continue the march but to keep moving up the road so as not to continue to block it. All of a sudden a separate squad of police, not part of the ring of police surrounding the protest, barged their way into the crowd pushing people over as they went, and grabbed Omar Hamed and dragged him out of the crowd and arrested him. I have no doubt that the police, like when Senior Sergeant Willie Taylor was in charge of the TPU, intended to incite a riot. The protesters showed incredible restraint and, while still chanting and holding their ground, did not retaliate.
[TVNZ raw footage originally showed an amazing view of this scene from across the road at the business school, but has since been cut out of their online video. Here is another amateur video from within the crowd showing the shock and surprise at how quickly the police squad moved in, but it doesn’t capture the overview of what happened in quite the same way.]
Due to police actions, the protest continued on for over 5 hours moving around the city, taking over various roads, and even blockading the Auckland Central Police Station for a while. 43 people were arrested and released without charge, suggesting that even the police know that nothing about their behaviour was unlawful.
I can only speculate on what the police motivations were yesterday. They had a number of strategies available for how to deal with the protest and the one they chose should only ever be used as a last resort. There was no attempt to negotiate with the protesters to get them to take a different route or speed up the march. One thing I do know for sure is that news footage of police clashing with protesters will always distract from whatever the protest message was orginally was.
Since you’re attempting to identify us I’ll give you a hand. I am Rochelle Rees and my partner is John Darroch. We are the parents of an 18 month old who John had at the protest yesterday. There is nothing wrong with taking a child to a peaceful protest. John was taking photographs and staying out of the action. Police threatened him with arrest for kneeling in a drain taking photographs. John then backed off because the baby was with him. I will restate that the only threat at any time to the baby was from the police. John actually left the protest early because the baby was bit scared after the police yelled at them.
Now you have our names, please feel free to go off and make your complaint to CYFS or whomever. Please stop invading our privacy and remove your threatening posts from the internet.