A video of an incident at the Sydney Mardi Gras in which a young man was allegedly the victim of police brutality has received 1.3 million hits in a few days. The incident showed the young man apparently receiving excessive force from police.
The young man (Jamie Jackson according to the video info, since confirmed) allegedly assaulted police, but repeatedly says “I didn’t do anything wrong!” over and over during the video. Other Mardi Gras goers said that the police assaulted him. The person taking the video says he saw the arrest and began filming. (Read the “About” section on the YouTube page for more information about the incident as the YouTube poster saw it.)
The trouble is that the initial cause of the incident is unclear. One allegation which emerged from the video is that an officer from Fairfield was alleged to have brutalized the man in question, grounding him and slamming his head into the footpath.
There’s a point here some commentators have missed- The extra police brought in from other areas for the Mardi Gras may or may not be aware of the gay community culture, which is strongly anti-violence and expects its members to help, not hinder, particularly during Mardi Gras.
Here's one problem- A police officer from Fairfield is more likely to be used to dealing with quite dangerous western Sydney gang members than partygoers and probably didn’t have enough local knowledge of the Mardi Gras crowd. His reflexes would also be in Fairfield, even if he was in Darlinghurst. Might be better in future to ensure that local Darlinghurst and Paddington police are teamed with any outsiders to avoid any possible misunderstandings.
Also notable was another issue- The reaction of officers on the spot to being filmed, who objected to the filming. The person filming stated repeatedly that he was within his rights, but the police disputed that statement. The police seem to have overlooked the fact that modern cameras and phones are literally everywhere in Sydney, and that a modern zoom lens can film without being seen in any environment.
Creating a situation where the entire crowd in 2014 comes armed with cameras isn’t exactly a great outcome for the police or the Sydney Mardi Gras. The other side of this equation is that a lot of commentators on YouTube weren’t very sympathetic to the alleged victim. Many made the point that assaults on police are common and effectively implied that police can’t really take risks on the job.
The daily risks to police of assault are undeniable, but you can’t accuse someone of assaulting police in a specific case “on principle”. Did this person actually attack police? What sort of threat was he to the safety of police? These issues are anything but clear.
A small, young gay guy in his right mind wouldn’t tackle a group of quite large policemen. Nor would he get any encouragement from his friends. They’d be far more interested in enjoying Mardi Gras. From the look of the guy, he was pretty merry prior to the incident, but if you look at him on the video, is he a credible threat?
My assessment would be that the “foreign” policeman saw something he thought was a threat, and acted reflexively. His reaction may have been automatic, and the situation probably escalated as other police moved in to provide support, creating a confrontation with the crowd.
What may not be known is that in any crowd arrest, the likely upshot is that crowds will oppose and obstruct police. Some crowds can get dangerous, so the support move is necessary. The trouble is that move also looks like a group action against the people being arrested, which can add fuel to the fire.
This case needs to be examined by both sides for better options. The crowd saw one thing, the police apparently assessed a different situation.
Sydney Mardi Gras is one of the city’s great parties. It needs to be a safe environment, and it needs clear understanding between police and organizers. That’s the most serious damage here, and it needs fixing.
Further information now available:
Mr Jackson was apparently first approached by police for "tickling" a female spectator. The subsequent incident involved a reaction to arrest which led to charges of assault.
Local police have already said Mardi Gras goers have nothing to fear in response to a protest over the incident, but it needs to go further into genuine mutual understanding.
Additional information has also just emerged since the incident indicating that the alleged victim did react, perhaps instinctively, but in the least productive possible way, after arrest by kicking and lashing out at the police, which is likely to have been the main reason for the response. A protest is scheduled to be held today.
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