An Account from One of the Sunday Arrestees on the Arrests, a Trip to the Watchhouse, and What Police Do When Nobody’s Watching
“We tried to feed the men inside home-cooked food from a local refugee-run restaurant.
We placed the meals up on the walls.
There were hundreds of us from the community and we had one simple demand: feed these men. They were brought here because they’re sick. Instead we locked them up. Let them eat food from their community.
The guards said no.
The police told us we had to leave the area—not just the road, but the footpaths too.
We live in this city. Some of us live in this neighbourhood. Some of us live on this street. We have the right to be here.
We talked it over, and many of us decided to sit peacefully in the middle of this quiet side-street and refuse to move until the men had been fed.
We sang, chanted, shouted our love for the men up on their balconies.
The police moved in, tapping each of us on the shoulder one by one, ordering us to move. Some people stood up and stepped off the road when police threatened arrest. Others stayed.
We who stayed knew we would probably be arrested—we were informed of our rights, we made the decision to stay on the road until those men were fed, and we were willing to risk arrest to do it.
We were peaceful people sitting on the road demanding that they treat these men with dignity. Give them a meal. Say welcome.
The police had a choice: negotiate for the men to have their meals, or arrest scores of peaceful community members.
They chose arrest.
We didn’t fight. We didn’t kick or punch. We just sat there peacefully linking our arms.
We were dressed for a meal with our friends—the police came dressed for a riot.
Some people got to walk to the waiting police vans. Others were dragged. They pulled our hair, pushed us over, squeezed our necks, pulled ears, used pressure points, called us slurs, hurled abuse, used compliance grips on people who were complying, pushed away members of the media, smacked phones out of hands, and groped women as they searched them. They took many women several streets away to a dark carpark to load them into a van. Why not do it on the street where everybody can see? You know why.
One cop tried to smack the police liaison’s phone out of their hand for filming unsafe police behaviour. They hit their arm so hard that it whacked another cop on the back. Then they arrested them for assaulting a police officer. (We have the footage—the magistrate will laugh it out of court.)
They put us in vans and took us to the watchhouse. One van had a dozen people in it. The singing never stopped:
“Stand strong keep the fire burning
Stick together, gotta keep the wheels turning
Force Serco to stand aside
Force the government to recognize the power of the people.”
The officer on duty at the watchouse struggled to hear my name because forty people wouldn’t stop singing in the holding cells behind me.
When I tried to turn around and watch, the cop searching me pushed me against the desk, squeezed his hand hard on the back of my neck, and said: “Don’t fucking turn around.”
This is what they do when nobody’s watching.
Some people were strip-searched. Others weren’t. Some people were pushed on their walk to the cells. Others weren’t. Some people had cuts, grazes, bruises, lumps, blood lips from their arrest.
I’m a white person. Those of us who were treated worst don’t look like me. This isn’t a coincidence.
We were all put in cells together—just with people from the blockade. It was just us. No food. Water from the sink above the toilet. A bad movie playing.
They released all of us at around midnight with two fines: a $553 fine for “Contravening a Police Direction” and a $53 traffic infringement for “Pedestrian Obstruct Driver.”
We can probably beat the big one in court—you can’t contravene a direction that you can’t hear over all the singing.
When we walked out of the watchhouse, there was a crowd of fifty people waiting for us with a hug, food and hot tea—and a lift straight back to the blockade.
The last person let free was a young woman of colour. They made her clean her cell before they’d process her. She had to wipe up someone else’s blood. They said they processed her last because they “don’t know how to pronounce her name.”
This is what they do when nobody’s watching.
People have gone into that watchhouse and never come out again. People have died in those cells. Those people are disproportionately First Nations people, people of colour, and people from other marginalised groups.
In that watchhouse, at 240 Roma Street, Brisbane, in the city you live in, there’s a cage hanging from the ceiling, just above where the cops sit at their desks overlooking the holding cells.
If you look closely, you see there’s something in the cage: a skeleton in a black and white convict’s outfit.
When you ask about it, the cops laugh and call it their mascot.”
If you’re angry about this, you should be even angrier about the way BIPOC are treated every day by police and show your solidarity this Saturday at midday: Stop Black Deaths in Custody: Black Lives Matter Meanjin