Media reports indicate that more than 200 people were arrested and six police officers were hospitalised during a protest in Melbourne on Saturday.
Protest organisers had rallied 10,000 people together at noon on Saturday in Melbourne to make a peaceful public declaration of disagreement with state government restrictions on businesses, education, healthcare, and mental health.
Music, signs, and banners demonstrated the ways people had been personally affected; and their personal views on the ways the Andrews government has been managing Victoria during the covid-19 pandemic.
A protest spokesperson said the throngs of people walking various Melbourne CBD streets was encouraging and inspiring as they made their way toward Parliament House on Spring Street. Many people, faces bare and free of masks, introduced themselves as they walked along and shared heartbreaking stories of how the government lockdowns have impacted their lives.
It was up until this point, that the protest was a peaceful and family-friendly event.
As the crowds approached Parliament House, they were met with multiple barricade lines of Public Order Response Team police members to prevent people from arriving. Protesters stood several meters from the police line, cautious and fearful of such a heavy police response.
One protest attendee described the following scene as ‘horrific, I’ve never seen such an instant and brutal reaction by police’ as the PORT began firing rubber bullets, OC spray and extendable batons at the crowd in an unprovoked opening attack. One of the victims, a ten-year-old boy attending the protest with his father, was seen crying, and screaming from the painful effects of the OC spray. Another victim was seen lying on the ground in agony after being shot in the face with a rubber bullet. The public were left questioning why police would instigate such a hostile act on a peaceful crowd; and so in fear, protestors ran from Spring Street.
It became clear to protest members that the police were tactically pushing the crowds to a predetermined location. One attendee said they could see lines of police strategically barricading alleyways and smaller streets in an effort to direct the crowds to Flinders Street for isolation and crowd control. <Attached image PORT barricade>
Police barricades continued to push the crowds toward Flinders Street, dividing the larger protest group into smaller crowds of people for easier management by law enforcers. Media reports describe the scene at Flinders Street as violent and disturbing; what they fail to report is the provocative and violence-instigating behaviour demonstrated by Victoria Police in the lead up to arriving at Flinders Street. One senior PORT officer was recorded inciting members of the protest and yelling “Here we go boys!” to his team members, and “Come on p#ssies! Here we go!” at the crowd after ordering an officer to ready himself with a rubber pellet gun pointed at the protesters. <Attached video PORT Officer provocation>
After being chased by police for over 1200 metres the crowds arriving at Flinders Street Station were fearful and alarmed by the intentionally hostile approach police had taken.
For many, the scenes at Flinders Street station will never be forgotten. It is apparent that some members of the public were overcome with anger and fear, and reacted to the police violence with excessive behaviour resulting in arrest. One protest attendee described a scene as absolutely extreme. ‘We watched as four police officers grabbed a guy as he was retreating, they tackled him to the ground and then another officer ran up to them with a baton in hand and took a strong swing at the guy’s head.’
‘It was time to leave. It was too much. I’ve never seen anything like it. I’ve heard reports of police brutality during these protests, but I wasn’t prepared for that.’
One protest spokesperson said, ‘despite what the media are reporting, the protest began as peaceful, but the police turned it into a violent situation.’