A Black Lives Matter protest has been broken up by NSW police before it could get started. Media reports claim that six people have been arrested, and five have been issued fines of a thousand dollars each. But this is nothing to do with public health.
On Sunday, the NSW Supreme Court ruled that the planned Town Hall rally was unauthorised and therefore unlawful. Organisers responded by moving the protest to the Domain, an enormous park that would leave no doubt that the event would be socially distanced and responsibly organised. But this wasn’t about the virus. Nothing was going to satisfy the rabid right wing forces that have whipped themselves into a frenzy in the last week.
I and a few other comrades from Socialist Alternative were some of the first to enter the park. The only people there were media and packs of cops patrolling the area. We were immediately surrounded and someone in charge started blaring over a megaphone: “By gathering today in the Domain, you are breaching the NSW public health orders. You must move on immediately or you will be arrested and fined!”
This was demanded of six people, standing at a distance from one another, wearing masks, in a giant park, in a state that is not in a lockdown. Meanwhile, even the official guidelines say that groups of 20 can gather outdoors – but as today shows, health concerns, logic and consistency have nothing to do with it.
It follows a hysterical week-long campaign of incredible hypocrisy by the rich and powerful in our society. Along with politicians and the media, the campaign has been led by NSW police chief Mick Fuller.
Fuller is a notorious right-winger who spends about as much time on 2GB and Sky News as Scott Morrison. He has presided over a campaign of strip-searches of adults and children in recent years, with police given quotas to fill. He runs a notoriously racist police force, which sees Aboriginal people routinely harassed, bashed, imprisoned and killed. And while the six prison guards who killed David Dungay Jnr, on camera, in Long Bay jail in 2015 remain unpunished, today David Dungay’s nephew, Paul Silva, was detained for protesting that injustice.
Incredibly, Fuller is also in charge of the NSW coronavirus response, and has spent the last week repeatedly lying that the outbreak in Melbourne’s housing commission towers was linked to Black Lives Matter protests there. In fact, not a single case of coronavirus spread has been linked to protests. Meanwhile, the virus is spreading in NSW, through restaurants, pubs and churches – and the government is doing nothing to stop it.
Three hundred people are allowed to pack into a pub, a restaurants or a casino in NSW, while no workplaces or schools are closed, and thousands can go to shopping malls or the footy. But 21 people in a park is a crime.
The NSW Liberal Government is doing the bidding of big business. They refuse to enter a lockdown even as another outbreak develops. Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently said that “what we need to do is find a way in which we can coexist with the virus”. Just two days ago it was reported that her cabinet had agreed that not until we are seeing 250 cases per day in NSW will any new lockdown be considered. The cynicism is breathtaking. They want the coronavirus to become normalised, so that business can carry on as usual.
The less they do to actually combat the coronavirus, the more they need to whip up lies, blame the actions of individuals, and crack down hard on protests, to divert blame for their deliberate policies of death, and to appear as though they are taking action. At the same time, they want to crush any nascent Black Lives Matter rebellion in Australia.
There are a few lessons we should take out of today. One is that the whole apparatus of the state, the cops, judges, and politicians, along with the business lobbies and the media have been shown to all be united around a pack of blatant lies designed to crush dissent to their system. The same judicial system that lets off killer cops and imprisons Aboriginal people at astronomical rates also has the power to decide if we are allowed to protest against that system. The same politicians that want us to learn to “coexist with the virus” use it as an excuse to demonise protest. Killer cops pretend to care about public health.
Another lesson: only a mass struggle that can defy and defeat these forces will ever win change. No clever legal strategy or loophole will suffice, because it’s us against them, and they know it. The struggle in the US shows the way. To all those hand-wringing liberals who pretend to support Black Lives Matter but decry protest “at this time”, it is enough to quote the famous words of Black abolitionist Frederick Douglass:
“If there is no struggle there is no progress. Those who profess to favor freedom and yet deprecate agitation are men who want crops without plowing up the ground; they want rain without thunder and lightning. They want the ocean without the awful roar of its many waters… Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never did and it never will.”