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Issue #1927      August 10, 2020


Judicial discrimination:

Police treated differently

Two weeks ago, three police officers were fined but spared a jail sentence for a 2017 incident for the assault of a disability pensioner named John when they, along with three other officers, attended his home in Preston, Victoria.

Senior constables Brad McLeod, John Edney, and Florian Hilgart were found guilty of a combined six charges over their use of force against the pensioner.

It was revealed, however, that McLeod had been involved in another incident mere months later in 2018 when Renaud Kobrinsky had called for an ambulance for his suicidal friend only to have the police show up instead. Kobrinsky was told to “f—k off” and was threatened with arrest when he asked why law enforcement and not paramedics had arrived. Nothing as of yet, has been done in regards to this incident.

Regarding the 2017 incident, Magistrate Cathy Lamble noted she was “horrified by images of [the victim] on the ground with six police officers restraining him.” However, despite her own admission that they acted completely inappropriately she believed that the three officers had suffered enough due to the lengthy court proceedings and media coverage which resulted in the officers not being recorded with a conviction and instead paying fines of $1,000 (Edney and Hilgart) and $3,500 (McLeod).

According to The Age, in addition to being restrained, the disability pensioner “was struck to the leg with an extendable baton, punched in the stomach, had his head stood on and capsicum spray used on him from close range. He then had water blasted in his face from a high-pressure hose. […] After using the capsicum spray, McLeod asked John: ‘Did you like that? Did you like that? Smells good, doesn’t it?’ ”

This is exactly the kind of behaviour that thousands across the country are protesting against in the Black Lives Matter Movement. Two weeks ago, a “I Can’t Breath” Black Lives Matter rally was held in Sydney. Attendees to the rally were fined as much as Edney and Hilgrat were despite the rally adhering to social distancing laws and installing highly-detailed COVID-19 safety plans such as ensuring protesters register their details prior to attending (to allow for easy contact tracing), handing out masks and hand sanitisers.

And if you think NSW courts are just shy on handing out convictions – you’re wrong. Late last month, Greens staffer Xiaoran Shi was convicted and fined after spray-painting “No Pride in Genocide” on the Captain Cook statue in Sydney’s Hyde Park which resulted in a $1,760 fine.

The preferential treatment received by cops in our “justice” system is no mistake. As the law enforcement arm of the state, their interests in protecting bourgeois democracy run in direct conflict with those of the working-class and its most maligned elements. And it is because of this conflict that protesters receive heavy-handed punishments and the “special bodies” of the state do not, at least not without immense pressure from society (as we have witnessed with the death of George Floyd by officer Darren Wilson).

Justice needs to happen now. It bears constant repeating that nobody has been held responsible for the over 400 Black deaths in custody since 1991. However, we can’t just stop at wanting justice for what has happened. Serious changes to law enforcement need to be made. We need to continue the fight against police brutality in Australia and ensure that those who yield the batons and guns are held to account and that the powers that law enforcement holds are severely curbed so that our rights are not arbitrarily infringed when we chose to speak out.

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