Policing Brutality

There comes a moment in every public outrage when the contours of a deeper concern emerge.

The video footage posted to youTube this week (which some readers might find confronting) depicting 18 year old Jamie Jackson being pushed to the ground by police has stirred the mighty social media dragon.

And rightly so, one might think, since it depicts a clear cut act of police brutality. Jamie is half the size of the police officers surrounding him, of which you can clearly see at least three, and he is already in hand cuffs. He is screaming. He is asking what is going on. There is blood on the ground. It’s extremely nasty stuff, and the thud with which his head hits the ground, followed by an audible gasp from bystanders, is quite sickening. This has to be police brutality.

Those words, police brutality, so powerful in contemporary culture, evoke instantly the phantom of Rodney King. Naturally then, since this unwarranted assault took place on the night of Mardi Gras (formerly known as the Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras), the footage spread like wildfire through the interwebs, trending on Twitter and Facebook and incurring the wrath and judgement of the fifth estate.

Not content with the mere notion of police brutality, emotional responses start flowing through social media hinting at an element of homophobia. Surely, SURELY, such a large police officer has no reason to treat that guy as he did. There can be NO justification for it, he must just be a purely vicious, homophobic cop. GetUp! engage now in a bit of progressive dog-whistling (who would have thought it possible) by sending through an email with the statement “incidents like this bring back all too recent memories for the LGBTI community”.

Meanwhile, the head of the police association, Scott Weber, calls for calm, and seeks to avoid a ‘trial by social media’. Unfortunately, raw footage has rendered the days of considered opinion and evidence-gathering obsolete. Judgements are made quickly in the Twittersphere, and the burden of proof required for a conviction has been in steady decline for a decade (see: Children Overboard, Iraq War, Slippergate). No, in the modern world it’s sentence first, verdict after. I’m sure the people of Iraq feel vindicated there were no weapons of mass destruction after all, despite the loss of hundreds of thousands of family and friends.

The trial now well underway, and the facts of the case – a young boy who swore at a police officer treated with unreasonably heavy force – suitably distorted into homophobic gay hate-crime, we can move to the final stage of cultural psychoanalysis: transference. Of course, where is the officer from? What colour is his skin? How thick is his facial hair?

Officer 226 from Fairfield Local Area Command – take a bow, and the fall, for now it is time to ‘protect our community’. This little gem was whipped up by one Facebook page:

'Keep our community safe'

A few choice quotes from Facebook:

“I hope he’s tortured to death.”

“I would like to see him dismissed on the spot.”

“Why put a homophobe in a gay festival in the first place?”

“A good cop’s a dead one.”

“Fag on Arab crime, who gives a kebab?”

Protection from whom or what? The Police? Arabs? Fags?

How did it get to this?

The Police have had a very long, and healthy relationship with Mardi Gras, and in the seven years I’ve attended the parade they have done an exemplary job. Kudos.

The problem we have here extends beyond the NSW Police Force and questions of ‘brutality’; it is a cultural one, and it stems from our incapacity to properly deal with violence. The same problem was lurking just beneath the surface of 4 Corners two weeks ago, during the ‘Punch Drunk’ investigation of alcohol-fueled violence.

Violence is the driving force of our social problems in contemporary Australia. Violence necessitates the use of force by police officers, and a violent culture engenders more violence. The fact that Officer 226 is from Fairfield says more about the cultural tectonic plates over which our police force must glide than it does about his personal identity. The social challenges facing a police officer in Sydney’s Western Suburbs are obviously different to those facing Officers in Darlinghurst or Paddington.

Unfortunately, our pervasive culture of violence doesn’t get confronted directly. It gets mystified, transmuted into an ‘alcohol’ problem, a ‘brutality’ problem, a ‘minority’ problem and, most tragically made palpable by the vile comments of perpetually shameless monster Scott Morrison, a ‘race’ problem. Even when confronted directly, it is only dealt with by way of more violence.

Violence can’t resolve violence, just as a dark room doesn’t get made light by adding more dark. What we need is more tolerance, more community, more education – we must counteract the unspoken violence in our society by acknowledging it, and turning it into kindness.

And sometimes that requires us to stop and think, and look for those deeper contours.

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