Guest Post: Arrested for protesting hypocrisy

A guest post by Lucy Rogers:

Yesterday at about 5pm I was arrested on Queen Street for peacefully protesting a pro-Palestine rally. I had popped out to grab coffee after being in a work meeting for the afternoon and I saw the protest occurring on Queen Street. I walked into a nearby shop, purchased an A2 piece of paper and wrote “SELECTIVE CONDEMNATION OF GENOCIDE IS EVIL” on it with a marker pen. I then stood on the pavement on Queen Street as the protesters walked past and held the sign above my head. I was silent and peaceful, and several metres away from them.

Immediately I was accosted by a group of nearby police officers who grabbed my sign off me and tore it up. They physically manhandled me and attempted to push me away from where I was standing. I refused to move and demanded my sign back. At this point I started recording them on my phone.

They refused to give my sign back and threatened to arrest me for breach of the peace and failing to comply with the lawful order of a police officer if I didn’t move on. As a criminal defence lawyer I was unfazed by this because I knew that I wasn’t breaking any law. The cops cannot tell you to do just anything: they could not for example order me to perform a handstand. I continued to refuse, asked them where in the law it said that they had the right to dictate where I stood in a public place when there was no obstruction to foot traffic, and finally attempted to walk to one side of them to silently observe the protest without my sign. (I was not carrying an Israeli flag or any other indication of being pro-Israel and because they had taken my sign there was no indication at this point what my views even were. I was just another person on the street.) It was then that the cops grabbed me from behind, handcuffed me and arrested me. All of this is on video. They then locked me in a police van. It is the following day and I still have a sore shoulder from where my arms were wrenched behind my back without warning. I also experienced sleeplessness last night.

One thing I found disturbing is that the cops were completely unfazed at me recording their police ID numbers or at arresting me even when they knew I had the means to identify them. They let me go as soon as I undertook not to return on that day. (I explained that I was only prepared to make such an undertaking because I had to get back to a work meeting, and that otherwise I would gladly stay in their van.) This shows that they didn’t care whether they had any chance of successfully prosecuting me or not. They even offered to give me information on how to lay a complaint.

What this suggests in my view is that they have misused laws against breach of the peace, resisting police and perhaps other such laws again and again and again. Section 39 of the Summary Offences Act 1981 reads as follows:

Any constable, and all persons whom he calls to his assistance, may arrest and take into custody without a warrant any person whom he has good cause to suspect of having committed an offence against any of the provisions of this Act except sections 17 to 20, 25, and 32 to 38.

I suspect that the police, who in ordinary circumstances are the ones who decide whether to prosecute someone (I have no reason to believe there is a different body set up to take criminal complaints against police officers) have taken a very liberal approach to what constitutes “good cause to suspect” a crime, and that has been used as a way for them to avoid consequences for the misuse of power without the matter ever even reaching the courts. The cops (I suspect) protect their own. They just wanted to shut me up for the duration of the protest, release me with or without charge and then get away with it.

I suspect too that these powers have been misused in cases more marginal than mine. Because I was in a very tense situation I did raise my voice, but I did not assault the cops, swear at them, drag my feet on the ground when they grabbed me or jerk my body around. I commented to the cops that I was a law-abiding person and one of them said he could tell. But I’m sure the cops have arrested plenty of people who were less polite, and hence where there was less sympathy for them. However, being unfriendly to cops is not a crime.

The whole thing has been an eye-opener for me. If there isn’t already I think there needs to be a body independent of the police set up to review complaints against police and determine whether to prosecute them. (Their actions constitute assault, false arrest, theft, wilful damage to personal property, kidnapping and a host of other crimes.) I would be interested to know how many criminal complaints against these police officers have been made and never upheld.

I am also concerned that being threatened by police with arrest for things like failing to comply with the lawful order of a police officer would be intimidating to people less familiar with the law about what the police can and cannot tell you to do. I suspect that the police deliberately exploit people’s ignorance of the law.

I add by the way that I do not consider myself to be a pro-Israel protester. I was very deliberately not carrying an Israeli flag even though flags were available from the same shop I bought the paper for my sign from. Although until recently I was a lifelong supporter of Israel, the complete blockade of food and water to all civilians in Gaza absolutely appalled me. The blockade was only lifted following American pressure and even then it was only lifted partially. Collective punishment is a war crime and I am not unsympathetic to sending home the Israeli ambassador.

I am not a pro-Israel protester. I am an anti-hypocrisy, anti-bias and anti-racism protester. I cannot understand how anyone in good conscience could exclusively protest Israel when Israel is responding to genocide, hostage taking and mass rape so brutal it broke women’s pelvic bones. By all means protest Israel’s actions. My question is why they aren’t also protesting Hamas. Being critical of Israel is not necessarily racism (I am critical of Israel) but a lot of it is. For many years now Hamas have fired missiles at civilian targets, Israel have responded with missile strikes on military targets while going to huge lengths to avoid civilian casualties, and then everyone has sided with the Palestinians. For those with eyes to see the bias was already apparent, but these appalling post-October 7 pro-Palestine protests have exposed once and for all what truly motivates these people: anti-Semitism.

Selective condemnation of genocide is not just evil but hypocritical, biased and racist.

This is an appalling story, that NZ Police arrested someone for peacefully holding up a sign, on the basis that it might upset the protesters. This is a sign that our right to freedom of expression remains under threat by the establishment. It is also difficult not to conclude that if roles of counter-protester and protest cause had been reversed, the Police would have never ever acted the way they did.

The encounter was mainly captured on video and is embedded below.

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