“How tough are youse?”, asks disability pensioner John. His personal CCTV cameras show him hunched over on his front lawn, beaten and pepper-sprayed. The pain comes through in his voice. A cop shoots water at his face with a high-pressure garden hose while five others watch, some laughing, one capturing the moment on their phone for kicks.
“That’s all youse are good for”, John says.
This evidence of brutality by Victoria Police is one part of a series released by the Age this month.
Another video shows police repeatedly beating a 23-year-old Sudanese man following an attempted robbery of a pharmacy in Preston. When they arrived on the scene, the man had been detained by a customer. Their assault left him with most of his teeth snapped and permanent damage to his back.
Footage from the Bendigo police station shows a detained man being beaten in a corridor and hurled head-first toward a steel door.
Tamara Hopkins, a lawyer and the founder of the Police Accountability Project, said outside the Victorian Parliament on 4 April, “The officers who are witnessing these events have not complained, so it shows to you we are looking at standard, everyday practice”.
Hopkins led a landmark racial discrimination case in 2013, in which Victoria Police was found guilty of systematic racial profiling and harassment of men of African descent. One officer named was sergeant Nick Konstantinidis. In a move worthy of fiction, assistant commissioner Brett Guerin transferred Konstantinidis to Victoria Police’s ethical standards unit following the accusations.
Guerin resigned in February after he was found posting obscene racist comments on Facebook under a pseudonym.
As in 2013, Victoria Police claims to be concerned with bad behaviour.
“Our officers make mistakes like anyone else”, reads a written statement following the release of the footage. “We want to be challenged, and we want to be held to account. When police cross the line, we want them to face the consequences of their actions.”
Beating up a defenceless disabled man and laughing about it with five of your fully armed mates is not a mistake.
The conclusion we should be drawing, according to Victoria Police, is that these actions are deviations from the norm.
But force, excessive or otherwise, is essential for maintaining an unequal system weighted in favour of a rich minority.
It’s why internal investigations of abuse accusations against cops mostly go nowhere, despite there being an average of seven complaints a day.
It’s why the police force last month added military grade semi-automatic weapons to its arsenal, despite Victoria being one of the safest places on the planet to live.
It’s why Victoria Police minister Lisa Neville last year came out strongly to defend harsh sentences for people damaging police cars. An attack on a police car can now get you 20 years’ jail; cops engaged in systematic racial profiling get a spot in ethical standards set aside for them.
For Neville, the clear victims in the videos are not the ones copping the beatings. “We cannot second guess our police”, she told reporters.
Premier Daniel Andrews showed no concern for the behaviour either, telling the Age, “Victoria Police, as the nation’s best police force, conduct themselves with professionalism and in my experience proportionate to the risk they face”.
He is overseeing the biggest recruitment to Victoria Police in its history – 3,135 new officers and an investment of $2 billion. In his words, “The academy is bursting at the seams”.