But I think that was due more to good fortune than anything else. I heard via Facebook at 6.45am on Friday that a large police presence had suddenly descended upon City Square.
My plan for Friday was always to drop by City Square in the morning. I was going to Sydney on the bus that evening, and so I was going to take all my things with me into town, drop by the Occupation, have a bite for breakfast, head to school, and then go back to the Occupation for dinner, before making my way to the bus at 6.30pm.
However, when I got the news about the police presence, I immediately gathered my things and rushed out the door. I am a member of the First Aid Working Group at Occupy Melbourne and I wanted to drop by to find out if my colleagues needed any help. I got off the tram at the intersection of Elizabeth and Collins Sts and walked up to Swanston St with my suitcase and tote bag. When I got there, there was already a large contingent of police, private security guards (dressed very similarly to the police) and bystanders were amassing. Temporary fences had been erected. It was 8am.
I approached the police cordon and asked if I could please get through. I explained that I am a member of the First Aid team, my friends were in there and I wanted to see them for ten minutes.
Mr Policeman said that unless I was willing to consent to a search of my suitcase and shoulder bag, I was unable to get through. I explained that I wasn’t willing to consent to such a search, and reiterated that I was a member of First Aid, and I wanted to go onto City Square for ten minutes to see my friends, and then I would be on my way. Mr Policeman repeated the search request and explained that if I tried to enter the site, I would be forcibly removed. I asked him on what grounds and he said on the grounds of non-compliance with a search request. I explained that I was pretty sure that I didn’t have to comply with a search request unless the officer had a warrant or reasonable suspicion that I was carrying something dangerous and that all I wanted to do was see my friends for ten minutes.
This got Mr Policeman pretty agitated so I made the decision to get out of there before him or one of his cohort grabbed me. I knew that once an officer had his or her hand on me that I’d be totally up the creek without a paddle, so I bailed double quick. Walking up Collins St, I stopped to Tweet at my friends inside City Square. The view from here was incredible. The police were encircling the entire area, fences were going up, and the private security guards were looming around looking in equal parts nervous, confused and ominious.
I wanted to take a few pictures with my phone but felt for all the world like I was being watched after my verbal sparring match with the policeman down the hill, so I decided against that. The last thing I wanted was to have my phone confiscated or smashed by overzealous soldiers of the state.
I walked up the hill to school.
Once there, the action started happening. I followed everything on Twitter all day and after school finished at 2.30pm I went back into the city. I was on my way to my sister’s office to get some money from her, then to my boyfriend’s office to meet him for dinner. They were both on Bourke St, so the plan was to come down Collins St and then walk along Swanston to Bourke, in order to see if my first aid crew were outside the Town Hall with the protest group and to see if I could offer any assistance.
When I got to the corner of Collins and Swanston Sts at 3pm, I could see that the protest group (now much larger than it had been when I passed by at 8am), was located in front of the Town Hall and Swanston St on that side was cordoned off by a human wall of police officers. They were standing shoulder to shoulder. Swanston St on the other side of the intersection was closed off by police tape, but traffic was freely moving up and down Collins St. City Square was closed off by temporary fencing, guarded by police from the dog squad, as well as the suspiciously dressed private security guards of the morning. I could see mounted police in the crowd in front of the Town Hall and there was lots of confused yelling, both from people trapped within the crowd, and the passers by without.
I didn’t approach the police cordon this time. I had seen enough on Twitter and Youtube throughout the day to know that the whole situation was an absolute powder-keg, and I didn’t want to even look at a police officer the wrong way for fear of setting them off. I crossed Swanston St and walked down Collins St, towards my sister’s office.
So. I didn’t get arrested on Friday, October 21. Had the circumstances been different, had I not had my suitcase with me, I would have stayed at City Square. I would have ended up in the group outside the Town Hall. I would have been there helping Jason treat a girl with a broken knee when the police wouldn’t let ambulances through. I would have been helping to wash people’s eyes out after the deployment of pepper spray.
I am disgusted with the actions of Victoria Police, the Melbourne City Council and the State Goverment of Victoria. I am disgusted by the number of officers of the law who came down upon the people of Melbourne today without their name and designation badges on. I am disgusted that the riot squad was sent into disperse a group of 100 people who were running a free community kitchen and first aid service. I am disgusted with the Lord Mayor’s dismissal of all of us as a “self-righteous, narcissistic rabble”, and with the police who charged their horses into the crowd. I am disgusted that 13 out of 17 truckloads of people’s personal belongings such as computers, cameras and tents and Occupy Melbourne donated items such as food, books, first aid equipment, marquees, tents and clothing were immediately compacted on site on Friday. So much was wasted.
I am, however, immensely proud to be associated with the Occupy Melbourne movement. Each and every one of those people has conducted themselves with the utmost of class. Not one single report of violence committed by a member of our movement has been found. Our people resisted peacefully, and not a single punch, projectile or molecule of flammable or irritant liquid was thrown by any of the Occupiers. Two police, apparently, got injured by capsicum spray, something that wouldn’t have happened if they’d not deployed it into a crowd on a windy day.
As of yesterday, Monday October 24, City Square remained fenced off and guarded by police from the dog squad and private security guards. So much for “returning City Square to the people of Melbourne”, Mr Doyle.