Published on November 26th, 2014 | by Dr. Jimmy Wall0
Fear of G20 and Loathing the Press
It is the day before the G20 Summit kicks off in Brisbane (Queensland, Australia). The temperature is expected to peak at 40ºC (104ºF) both on Saturday and Sunday. Throw tropical humidity in the mix and you know it will be unbearable. Of course, that is the least of the worries for most people, especially police, protesters and civil liberties groups. Because no one wants a rerun of what happened at the G20 Summit in Toronto (Canada) in 2010, where police used kettling on protesters, and it was rumoured that police also instigated the protesters so they could practice for what they had been trained.
Before I was heading to bed to get some sleep, I packed my bag, checking that I had all of my camera equipment, my press card, voice recorder and notepad. Beneath the camera I had hidden a simple scarf to wear in case tear gas would be deployed. I also hid a pair of protective glasses in the compartment where I keep all my cables and an extra battery for my devices. Hiding such equipment should not be necessary, but all I can say is, welcome to Australia 2014. A western country that is listed 28th on the 2014 Press Freedom Index. I’ve been threatened with arrest for covering protests, so as a journalist in Australia you are not always welcomed, and often looked upon as an instigator for some reason.
I dragged myself out of bed before 7 a.m. this Saturday morning, which is not something I do voluntarily, and it was already somewhat muggy outside as I was heading to the train station. I met up with a journalist buddy of mine, Josh Wells, whom was also covering the G20 Summit for another publication. As we were getting close to the Milton train station he said I should expect to be searched.
“The police go through the whole train inspecting people and looking through their bags.”
Damn he was right! As soon as the train stopped and the doors opened, the police walked through each carriage to look at passengers’ bags. Luckily they only gave our bags a swift glance.
“Oh, would you look at that,” Josh said, “they just removed two teenagers from the train.” As these teenagers where questioned by the police the train closed its doors and rode away, leaving them at the station.
Stepping off at the Roma Street station I headed to the park close by to take some photos of the Decolonisation Before Profit rally. I had tried to find out about other protests, but it seems the draconian laws had been effective to scare away protesters. There were fears that Black Bloc would partake, but the police had already been extremely eager to ban certain people with the help of the new G20 bill the Queensland government was happy to introduce – providing the police with the right to do whatever within the G20 area, while everyone else that entered gave up their rights.
Police could search anyone if they felt like it. Only reason they had to give was that you had entered the G20 area. On top of that you were not allowed to carry eggs or glass jars. So if you planned to make some lovely pancakes, served with jam, you could forget about that — unless you wanted to have the police go through all your belongings, even your phone.
It didn’t make it any better that it was sizzling hot. You could hear your own skin crackle like bacon in a frying pan if you stood for too long in the sun. Heat and protests is not a combination you want when the police are already high on adrenalin from their special riot training. That is a recipe for disaster, or more aptly, a possible rerun of G20 in Toronto 2010.
The protesters had a massive banner with them that had the text Genocidal 20 written on it. You see, the colonisation of Australia by the British in 1788 wasn’t mutual. The Indigenous Australians are still being marginalised by the white Australian system. With several attempts of assimilation, the indigenous are tired of being treated as second-rate citizens. Calling on the white fellas to hand the land back to them, you could sense the tension between the protesters and police — about 6,000 police had been called in to protect the world leaders.
With tensions brewing it wouldn’t take much to set off this powder keg. All it took was a random guy wearing a Guy Fawkes mask to swing a right hook, and knock out a police officer, to make the shit hit the fan. The protesters flooded the street and rammed the police line like a tsunami. It started out as a good old fashioned peaceful protest, and turned into a bloody riot. Police swinging their bats like skilled baseball players, grinning from ear to ear, while the protesters rushed them roaring like angry NFL players, with no remorse or fear of getting hurt or hurting police officers. On one corner a group of police were stomping a lone protester with their boots, while in the other corner a lone police officer was being dragged away by a bunch of wild protesters after they had beaten him unconscious.
It wasn’t a riot anymore. It was pure brutality — a nasty slaughter. Then suddenly the tear gas was deployed. Everyone scattered, even the police. Mayhem, chaos and absolute pandemonium. The riot police rushed in and mowed through the crowd without hesitation. They didn’t care if you were an innocent bystander, if you stopped and stood there with your hands in the air or if you were part of the press. If you weren’t one of them and stood in their way you would be beaten to a pulp. Brisbane showed the world that day they would be a much better G20 host than Toronto in 2010 — by using greater force and spilling more blood.
At least that was, as mentioned, what everyone thought would happen.
It didn’t. I made this all up, except the police search on the train, and what will follow.
What else would you expect when the government introduces a new bill stripping civilians their civil liberties and deploying 6,000 police officers within a small area? Especially in a country where protests are usually more like a march going from A to B, and you are surprised if more than 30 people show up.
I had to head into the Brisbane suburb called West End earlier that week on a Tuesday to do some work for Westender. What shocked me was to see how a suburb that is usually very lively was close to empty. It was as if I had partaken in some kind of post-apocalyptic film, where only a few people have survived and dare walk the streets. Sundays tend to be rather quiet, but compared to what I saw on that Tuesday, Sundays are crowded. I had the same experience when I popped in for another assignment on Friday, the day before the G20 Summit. It was like walking through a soon-to-be ghost town. Both times I went for a walk through CBD (Central Business District) to have a gander, as the eminent state prime minister had suggested. I couldn’t really understand why anyone would want to look at a bunch of closed stores and empty streets surrounded by police officers and fences. It was as if I had, instead of a ghost town, entered some kind of closed-off city district in a totalitarian state.
It was then I knew Brisbane would not experience the same protests as Toronto did in 2010. With the new bill turning a certain section of the city into a totalitarian utopia, no one would be crazy enough to start a riot – especially considering the history of the Queensland police. Not just back in the old days of Joh Bjelke-Petersen in the 1970s and 1980s, but up till now Queensland police are known to have each other’s back — if you catch my drift. Not to mention that protests in Australia tend to be rather tame compared to what I’ve seen and experienced in Europe. If they manage to gather more than 30 people it’s amazing. But they often do a march, and when that is done, they all go home and think they made a change. But you have to break a few eggs to make an omelette. Going for a stroll is not enough to convince certain political leaders. If you fear them, they have won. It’s when they fear you that you have the upper hand.
What surprised me was, of course, how well behaved the Queensland police were. They had shipped in police from across Australia to help keep everyone under control — as you do in a police state. Though, I think they knew the whole world was looking, and wouldn’t miss if they did behave badly. They had negotiators walking with them, trying to keep everything calm — with an iron fist. Because we all know what happens in countries with little to know freedom. Not much, which is why people try to behave nicely. So they can stay alive and out of jail. This was nothing more than a show of force. It had little to do with keeping world leaders and citizens safe from run-amok protesters and terrorists. This was yet another security theatre turned to the street.
Of course, my fellow journalists might’ve helped keep people from acting out and scaring away most of people within Brisbane. Constantly reporting about how many rights civilians would lose when entering the G20 areas and the risk of violence would scare most people away. Instead, the government and police decided they would first let people know they would not tolerate any anti-social behaviour. Something too many journalists lapped up, even civil right groups, and amplified to the public. But it worked. It kept the world leaders safe, because no one showed up. Everyone fled the city in droves.
Instead, Brisbane showed an empty city that looked more like a gated community in a totalitarian police state. What was interesting with the well-behaved protesters and suspiciously nice police were that most online articles got flooded with people talking up the police, as if they had saved the world from imminent threat of World War III. Any mention of the Queensland police tends to have the opposite effect, but this time around it seemed everyone had drank the Kool-aid.
I had planned to head in on Sunday too, but due to the horrible heat and what I saw on Saturday, I decided to stay at home, lounge around and drink myself silly. Why bother spending time walking around in sizzling heat and taking photos of empty streets? I had already done that on Tuesday, Friday and Saturday. No need for another day with nothing happening. Brisbane truly lived up to its bad reputation of being an absolutely boring city overrun by police and dodgy politicians too eager to take away the civil liberties of their citizens.
Good riddance Brisbane,
and good luck to those I leave behind when I flee this state at the end of the year.