On 25 July 2015 police attempted to prevent a march of people from Reddacliff Place to Parliament House under the pretext that they had insufficient resources to regulate traffic. Instead the officer in charge, Sgt Michael Schodel, took it upon himself to force people onto the footpath by shouting and abusing them, by pushing, nay assaulting them and threatening to arrest them. Two motorcycle police used their vehicles to dart in on the march thus putting participants and their children at risk.
This was especially ironic because the purpose of the rally was to prevent violence against women. The rally and march was organised by the Wicked Pickets campaign. Their manifesto was summarized by Ms Anna McCormack in her letter dated 30 July 2015 to Ms Jo-ann Miller MP, Qld Minister for Police, Fire and Emergency Services and Minister for Corrective Services:
“We are against the promotion of rape culture and incitements to violence against women that are evident, as an example, on the campervans of a company called Wicked Campers, owned by a John Webb and based in Brisbane but with car yards in other Australian centres.
Wicked Pickets has been campaigning against John Webb’s vilification of women for a year. We have asked the Queensland Government to include ‘sex’ as a ground to outlaw vilification in existing legislation that already outlaws vilification on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality and gender identity.”
By their behaviour police showed antipathy to this campaign. It is not the job of police to take political positions although you could be forgiven for thinking so in Queensland, given the pronouncements of the police union in support of Sgt Chris Hurley after he killed Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in November 2004.
In this case police were responsible for the regulation of traffic and to facilitate the peaceful assembly and march of the Wicked Pickets campaigners. Police antagonism was evidenced by the behaviour of the officer-in-charge who proved incapable of negotiation of the march route properly. In my letter to the complaints officer accompanied by video evidence I made the following observation:
“I think the problem was that police did not seem to accept that people had the right to march on the carriageway and that this dispute remained unresolved prior to the march setting out, resulting in a dangerous journey for the marchers.”
Anna McCormack made written complaints on behalf of the community group Wicked Pickets to the police department about police conduct during the rally and march.
On the 13th of November 2015, Acting Chief Superintendent Paul Ziebarth wrote back rejecting allegations in the complaint on the spurious grounds that “conflicting versions” of the circumstances exist and our “allegations are not capable of being substantiated“. Acting Chief Superintendent Ziebarth claimed ‘the CCTV does not support the allegations you alleged’. People can judge for themselves from the slideshow images shown above.
Senior police would know that different versions of such events are one indication of the veracity of the complaint. If the testimonies of the participants are identical then collusion is likely. Queensland has a dark past where collusion by police fabricating verbal confessions has caused wrongful convictions.
From this rejection we can assume that senior police endorse the behaviour of the police officers present and reject the concerns of the organisers concerning the abuse of women. I say the latter because that is exactly what Sgt Michael Schodel was doing on the day in question.
By their actions Queensland police are restricting people’s democratic rights to organise in opposition to the abuse of women.
Do politicians endorse such behaviour? At least one politician says she does not. I listened to Ipswich MLA Jennifer Howard’s speech outside parliament. Ms Howard marched with us and represented Minister Shannon Fentiman, Minister for Communities, Women and Youth, Minister for Child Safety, Minister for Multicultural Affairs. Ms Howard spoke supportively to the rally on behalf of Minister Fentiman and also accepted a petition presented to her to be tabled in the Qld Parliament.
It is hypocrisy for government to rail against the treatment of women by religious fundamentalists on the one hand and yet condone the harassment of marchers by police and to allow the denigration of women on the Wicked Campers vehicles owned by John Webb.
Ms McComack sums it up in her letter of complaint:
“Sergeant Schodel’s behaviour during the rally, even before he started shoving and yelling during the march, was disrespectful and insulting. The very clear message he gave to rally participants is that he, Sergeant Michael Schodel, considers efforts to stop the vilification of women and the promotion of violence against women, to be ludicrously funny, something to be sneered at and dismissed.
It is likely that Schodel’s views on male violence against women influenced his wish to shut down our march. The public is not interested in Sergeant Schodel’s personal views about violence against women. We are, however, interested in the QPS behaving professionally and respectfully in their work, including at public demonstrations. Sergeant Schodel appears to have forgotten he is a public servant.”
If senior police and their minister continue to endorse such behaviour their hypocrisy will be judged accordingly.
The women’s movement has a proud history in Queensland fighting for democratic rights – and police attempted to deny those rights. But participants and organisers stood firm and marched to stop villification of women and girls!
15 November 2015