Carrying out law enforcement is not a job I easily comprehend and certainly do not envy.
In fact, more often than not I admire those who take on this role and do so because they genuinely want to make us as a society feel safer in our daily lives.
But sadly these same men and women who pledge to keep us from harm sometimes step over the line.
One of the most famous examples of this was the Rodney King incident in LA in the 90’s where police officers were caught on video beating up Rodney King during a roadside arrest. And even worse, they were acquitted of the crime, leading to riots across California in protest of what was viewed as both a racially inspired incident and judicial outcome.
More recently, we’ve had the horrific case of Australian Justine Damond Ruszczyk, fatally shot by police officer Mohamed Noor in her own driveway as she went to investigate what she thought was a woman being assaulted.
Australia has not been immune to similarly disturbing incidents, one of which I was caught up in over 20 years ago…and another of which occured this last weekend.
In 1994, over 450 people were enjoying a night out at “Tasty”, a popular nightclub in Melbourne’s CBD, when it was stormed by police who went on to conduct what would notoriously be labelled “The Tasty nightclub raid”.
Those at the club were detained for hours, with every single patron subjected to humiliating strip searches — some full body cavity searches by officers wearing the same set of latex gloves for each person searched — in full view of others.
Given that police knew this club was frequented by a substantial group of gay, lesbian and transgendered people, as well as straight clientele, the raid was immediately seen through the prism of homophobia. A legal class action ensued, with Victoria Police successfully sued for a large sum of money.
The positive outcome of this nasty and, let’s face it, completly bungled raid which only saw two convictions around drug possession, was an improved effort by Victoria police in its dealings with the gay community from thereon in.
That is until the weekend of May 11–12, 2019.
In the early hours of May 12, police conducted a pre-dawn raid on the apartment above LGBTQI bookshop Hares & Hyenas. Allegedly in pursuit of “an armed member of a Lebanese gang”, police chased down Nik Dimopoulos who fleeing the scene for fear of it being some kind of home invasion, was thrown to the footpath, having his arm broken in several places as he was restrained.
“It’s very clear to us that police stuffed this one up”
Luke Cornelius, Assistant Commissioner of the Northwest Metro Command on the May 2019 raid in Fitzroy Victoria
Nik may never regain full use of his arm.
The incident understandably sparked immediate outrage, with Luke Cornelius, Assistant Commissioner of the Northwest Metro Command, apologising in the aftermath. The incident has since been referred to the Independent Broad-based Anti-corruption Commission and no doubt a large civil suit by Dimopoulos aimed at Victorian Police will follow.
Apologies from authorities notwithstanding, those personally involved will argue the suspect fled the scene, warranting their suspicions of him being the subject of the raid, so they therefore took the measures deemed suitable to apprehend him.
But the question over this is whether it’s unreasonable for anyone living in the inner city to flee a situation where the dwelling they are in is stormed by unknown individuals.
If it were me in that situation, I certainly would have felt the urge to do so.
This aside, the force allegedly used in the apprehension of a lone man by many appears on the surface to be beyond what is reasonable, and while it can also be argued that they have a responsibility to carry out the law and protect themselves in undertaking their dutues, they do not have open license to hurt or maim without provocation.
I’m not calling for the heads of anyone.
I’m not calling out the many police officers who do their duties with care and honour and due diligence.
I am, however, calling this out as an avoidable use of force.
This ugly incident will once again put some strain on the relationship between the LGBTQI community and the Victorian Police Force. And for those like me who were at the Tasty Raid so many years ago, it will raise the ugly spectre of the abuse of power by individuals purposed to protect the community, not attack it.