Free speech and racist cops
LETTER TO VICTORIAN TRADES HALL re: cancellation of our room booking for Racism and Police Violence.
We are writing to object in the strongest terms to the arbitrary cancellation of our room booking for a public meeting on the issue of “racism and police violence” on Thursday 21 June.
You cite “concerns” of an affiliate, without saying who this affiliate is, or explaining what their concerns might be. We can only assume the complaint comes from the Police Association. What concerns they might have you leave it to us to speculate about.
Do the Police Association deny that issues of racism and unjustified violence by Victoria Police are a legitimate topic of discussion in Melbourne? Do they deny – having recently sacked Police members for sending emails that were self-evidently highly racist – that racism is an issue the Victoria Police need to deal with? Do they deny that excessive force has ever been used by members of the Victoria Police, or that the issue of how state sanctioned violence is used against citizens is a legitimate political discussion?
We say, in the strongest possible terms, that Trades Hall should review and reverse its position, and not give in to pressure from a group that has, to say the least, been less than enthusiastic in its support for the aims of the labour movement in recent history.
We do not want to go over the issues that were to be discussed in the meeting here. But the actions of the Police Association force us to raise a few points. This meeting has been called in response to a series of widely documented recent abuses of police power:
The tragic death of Michael Atakelt, a young Ethiopian man whose body was discovered in the Maribyrnong river last year, has raised a series of questions about police brutalisation of that community. An Age article detailing Atakelt’s death revealed serious and ongoing concerns about police behaviour. According to The Age:
“Over 250 people attended a public meeting in July 2011, the week after Michael Atakelt’s body was found. Among the speakers that day were many young men who complained of constant harassment by the police. Atakelt’s friends said that he had been questioned 10 times in the month before his disappearance, but that no charges had been laid and that he did not know why he was stopped so often.”
The legal representative of the Atakelt family, Tamar Hopkins, will be speaking at this meeting.
In their report ‘Interventions into Policing of Racialised Communities in Melbourne’, Fitzroy Legal Service and Monash Springvale Legal Centre describe deteriorating relationships between youth of colour and the police. To quote the report: “African young people are over-policed in the regions of the study. This over-policing is racialised. Despite generally having a good understanding of their formal rights, for the most part young people cannot assert these rights — in fact asserting them often results in police hostility and aggression.”
Furthermore in May of this year, The Age reported on confidential settlements between the police force and four African-born men and one Afghan who claimed they were beaten, falsely imprisoned and/or racially abused by officers in northern and western suburbs.
Unfortunately migrant youth are not the only ones experiencing police harassment. Aboriginal communities have long been on the receiving end of unwarranted police attention. The meeting is designed to give a further public voice to this aboriginal experience. Long term aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe will be speaking on the anti-koori racism scandals that engulfed the force last year. Here, the Herald Sun reported that even the Koori advisors to the Victorian Police complained of discrimination.
Gerry Georgeatos, a researcher into deaths in custody, will report at the meeting on the racialised nature of this phenomena.
Even the previous Victorian Police Chief Simon Overland recognised that there were racists in the ranks of the Victoria Police.
As far as we are concerned we have breached no condition that applies to meetings at Trades Hall – indeed we contest that this meeting is in the best traditions of the Trades Hall Council and the Victorian labour movement, which has long been a defender, not a suppressor, of public debate. We urge you to continue that tradition.
Yours in Solidarity
Vashti Kenway and Corey Oakley