On an Autumn night in 2012 a call was made to police to report that a young man had freaked out in a convenience store and had left without paying for a packet of biscuits.
Uniformed police pursued the half naked Roberto Curti through the streets of Sydney CBD and tackled him to the ground. He was handcuffed then electrocuted repeatedly while three bottles of capsicum spray were emptied into his face. He was choked and crushed by the weight of nearly a dozen cops who piled on top of him. He died screaming in the grip of an LSD trip gone very, very bad.
In 2017 at a mid-winter fancy dress party in Melbourne the police responded to information that a partygoer dressed as The Joker was armed with a pistol. They stormed the Inflation Nightclub despite being told by the security staff that the pistol was a toy.
Dale Ewins and his girlfriend Zita were busy doing the wild thing in a dark corner when confronted by eleven heavily armed and armoured policemen. As Dale pulled up his pants and turned to face the officers he was shot, then tasered, punched in the face, forced to the ground and handcuffed.
Dale received bullet wounds to his torso and consequently required eleven surgeries to reconstruct his shoulder and remove half of his bowel. Zita was shot in her thigh and again in her knee.
Byron Bay on a mid-summer night this year a call is made to police by a hostel receptionist to report that a teenage boy is naked, intoxicated and screaming in the dark laneway outside the Nomad's Backpacker hostel. Four police responded. They soaked him with capsicum spray and hit him with a baton before taking him to the ground.
In the video shot by a bystander we see police officers struggling to handcuff the sixteen year old boy while another holds his legs. Another cop stands on his throat and strikes him several time with a baton. The teenager resists feebly and the cop continues to beat him with the weapon, breaking one of his ribs and pulverising his legs and torso.
How much force can be lawfully used to make an arrest?
Reasonable force – which is equal to or less than the force that is used against you. You wrestle with me I wrestle you to the ground. You come at me with a bat I can whack you silly with a baton. You pull a knife on me and I can stop your heart with a bullet.
With this in mind it is not necessary for me to point out that the force used here by police is excessive in all these examples, particularly as the cops vastly outnumbered the arrestees in every case.
I do not write this to pass judgement on the police as individuals nor as an organisation. I will keep that to myself. I would not wish them to publicly judge me either - for in my 30 odd years in the security business I too have hurt people on the street and may hurt more in the future. It can get rough out there folks.
But consider this,
If the police had been called and arrived to find me standing on a kid's throat and beating him with an iron bar – what would they have done? They would have arrested me and charged me with assault causing actual bodily harm. I would be tried and convicted on the evidence of bystanders, the video and the boys injuries. As it would be my first offence I might escape jail – but I could go in for as long as five years. If three others had held him down while I flogged him we would all be liable for as much as 7 years. I would certainly lose my security licences and subsequently my livelihood. My standing in the community would go to zero. I might even be obliged to leave town.
Of the eleven police who killed Roberto Curti only one was charged with common assault as his use of the third can of capsicum spray on the dying man was deemed by the Coroner to be unnecessary and excessive. The Sergeant who was the senior officer at the scene of the killing is now an Inspector despite his conduct and lack of leadership being described by the same Coroner as abhorrent.
No police were found to be at fault over the nightclub shooting of Dale and Zita though the police were kind enough to not to press charges against them despite their ludicrous claims that Dale had threatened them with a pistol (Dale had his pants around his ankles and was shot in the back).
So it is unlikely that any action will be taken against the policeman who beat the helpless teenager in Byron Bay. Maybe some further training, counseling, suspension with pay. We shall see.
None of the victims in the cases discussed here were charged with an offence leaving us confused as to why they were set upon in the first place.
I can and have arrested people, and you can too. The Police are bound by the same laws regarding reasonable force that we are.
So why is it that the Police get away with using excessive force where we will not?
Not because they are empowered to do so by laws - but because they have special status as employees of the state and members of very powerful unions whose co-operation the state needs to maintain it's monopoly of force.
In an earlier story about the death of Cameron Doomadgee in Police custody I wrote that criminalising common behavior unleashes the forces of the state upon ordinary people who may not deserve it and may not have the strength and resources to withstand it.
We have by default or by design enabled the state to use apparently unlimited force against us even in situations where no crime has been committed.
So consider please that in all these cases someone has called the Police and unwittingly unleashed upon these people the full violence of the state. Imagine how they feel now. Imagine it was you.
A well intentioned call to the forces of the state for help can result in the horrifying death or savage beating of an innocent person. Maybe someone you know. Maybe even you.
So to help keep our streets safe – think twice before letting the dogs out.