I was pepper sprayed by police at IMARC (even though I was a journalist)

30 October 2019

Content warning: violence and police brutality

If I can applaud Victoria Police stationed outside the International Mining and Resources Conference (IMARC) this week on anything, it’s how indiscriminate they’ve been in dishing out absurd levels of violence.

Today, it didn’t matter who you were—young or old, protester or observer—no one was exempt from the tyrannical-style of brutality displayed by Victoria Police.

At approximately 9:20am this morning (only half an hour after arriving), myself and another Farrago reporter were pepper sprayed by police. And before you ask; no, neither of us were involved in the protest.

Truthfully, I couldn’t tell you what drove police to fire that pepper spray so recklessly out into the crowd. I was far enough away from the blockade at the time that I couldn’t hear what was happening between protesters and police. I thought I had positioned myself at a safe distance to observe and report peacefully. Clearly, I was mistaken.

If you’ve never had the experience of being pepper sprayed before, all I can say is that’s it’s immeasurably worse than I ever imagined. What ensued in the moments after I was sprayed was an unbearable sensation of feeling like someone had lit a match on my skin before shoving it in my eyes. It took me at least 5 minutes to regain my sight, but even at the time of writing this—nearly 8 hours later, my vision is still blurry and my skin still burns.

I wasn’t the only journalist injured today. Reporters from Channel 7, Channel 9 and apparently Sky News also experienced varying degrees of violence of their own, including being pushed by police and subjected to pepper spray.

This was the second day of IMARC and third of the subsequent blockade outside protesting environmental abuse and worker exploitation by members of the mining and resources industry in attendance.

I genuinely didn’t expect police violence to escalate as much as it did today. After footage emerged from the blockade on Tuesday that showed police beating protesters, including those visibly surrendering, I thought (or maybe more naively, hoped) that Victoria Police might adopt some different “tactics” today. But if anything, their behaviour is becoming more aggressive and hostile as the IMARC Blockade continues.

What’s most concerning about my experience today, which is not dissimilar from the experiences of protesters throughout the entire blockade, is how dismissive both Victoria Police and the Victoria Government have been of accusations of police brutality.

In a statement today, police said, “It is unfortunate that members of the public, including journalists, are not following instructions by members of Victoria Police”. Ah, if only I had actually been close enough to the blockade to hear such instruction rather than in the crowd amongst other media.

This pathetic attempt to pass blame on to journalists like myself as well as protesters didn’t rattle me as much as the press conference held by Commander Libby Murphy though. This afternoon, after protesters were doused in pepper spray, Murphy applauded police at the blockade for showing “much restraint” today and affirmed that the use of the chemical agent “complied with Victoria Police policy”.

These displays of grotesque and unjustifiable violence must serve as a wake-up call. First and foremost, the policies that supposedly permit police to enact the brutality seen today must desperately be overhauled. We, as journalists and members of the public in general, need to be wary of encroachments on our ability to access and scrutinise the elite and powerful.

Commander Murphy also told the press that police will “hold [protesters] to account” for their actions today. Isn’t about time the tables turned and we did the same?

26 responses to “I was pepper sprayed by police at IMARC (even though I was a journalist)”

  1. Sandra Yates says:

    And this is Australia ?,…what is happening ?…shame shame shame.

  2. Richard Mann says:

    Hold the cops to account ..

  3. jc says:

    Victoria Police’s motto is “Uphold the right”… The right to peacefully protest is a legal right, and from all accounts, the only ones instigating violence are the police.

    I am utterly disgusted at what has transpired the last couple of days. I’ve written to my state MP about it and will be writing again including this article.

    • EP says:

      “Uphold the right” clearly means the right wing lmao

      • SS says:

        That would go a long way to explaining why the left wing government in this left wing state is defending the violence of the institution belonging to said left wing state

        • Alex says:

          Labor left wing? In Victoria or anywhere.
          Yeah nah.
          They manage to maintain hospitals, schools and public transport. That’s good. Doesn’t make them left wing while they uphold neoliberal economics and corporate vested interests before civil liberties, environment and native title across the land.
          Write to Andrews. Make him speak to this.

    • Darren says:

      Where these police acting of their own accord, or instructed to act with extreme prejudice.
      Disgraceful, either way.
      But if instructed to be so forceful then Australia needs to take a good look at itself!

  4. Govinda Lange says:

    It is very revealing that the government values the comfort of conference attendees above the safety of peaceful protesters, the police and journalists. Lisa Neville needs to step in and instruct Victoria Police to show more restraint before the situation is further inflamed.

  5. Peter powell says:

    I was not there; however, this is clearly a situation needing urgent review. And yes I did see footage of police beating people who were not resisting. Rev Dr Peter Powell

  6. mick says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t remember this sort of intimidation & violence from the Police when the Alt-Right (Nazis) were gathering.

    Nor calls from the Federal Secret Police Minister Dutton to have “welfare payments cut” & “mandatory jail sentences” imposed.

  7. Mark Gill says:

    Theres something terribly wrong with Victorian police. !
    This reaction is more seen in countries like China !
    The Victorian government should be ashamed but their bragging about it. !
    Disgusting and bewildering. !

  8. Beth Jabornik says:

    I was there most of Tuesday. I observed incident after incident of police brutalising young protestors. The fact that a police horse backed over a Chilean woman, breaking her legs can’t be ignored.
    Using huge police horses as weapons is dangerous.
    Breaking protestors legs is extreme violence.
    As Jill Sparrow pointed out, Victoria Police have showed just where they stand. They are there to protect the wealthy mining representatives.

  9. Fay Smith says:

    Sick with disgust and apprehension at the scenes of Australian police deliberately harming Australian citizens.
    Hard to comprehend the ordered cruelty.

  10. Sally Brown says:

    Absolutely disgusting. Police power and brutality are encouraged by the reduction of civil rights as a result of Federal government legislators.
    Australia is now the most secretive ‘democracy ‘ in the world. Our government threaten our safety and rights!

  11. Jim says:

    I didn’t see much of the peaceful protest by the demonstrators if the police weren’t there,people attending the meeting would have been assaulted and hurt by your so-called peaceful protest,i was in the moratorium marches against the war in Vietnam they were peaceful no one was hurt ,to my way of thinking these protesters are a bunch of thugs,they are not in any way advocating the thoughts of the majority of the population,regardless of what you think society would not function with out mining think about that before forcing your will on the population of Victoria

    • C says:

      Whatever your thoughts about mining, it doesn’t excuse the behaviour of the police. There are countless videos of protesters with their hands in the air, surrendering, whilst police shove them and/or beat them with batons. The police should be there to protect all of the people. You say that without them those attending the meeting would be assaulted but where is your proof? You can’t accuse demonstrators of something they haven’t done? The police should be protecting all citizens not using brutal force on any group.

    • JJ Miller says:

      Jim. Yes it was rowdy and there was a fair amount of pushing and shoving mainly due to the fact that police were bunching the blockade protesters up. The violence was instigated by the police. It was totally unfounded and brutal. There was never any physical danger to anyone entering the conference. The wealthy are “protected” like this because they pay for and influence gov who influence the police. Shame on them all.

  12. Linda says:

    Time to insist that those ordering the violence need to be held to account. The immediate dismissal of the commissioner and an independent investigation. Has anyone started a petition?

  13. David says:

    I was capsicum sprayed by NSW police inside my own home, after they illegally entered on an alleged Welfare Check. When I told them I was fine, wasnt going to go with them, and asked them to leave, out came the capsicum spray!

    • The Victorian Police force are very much a part of the Western Military/Industrial complex that is dominated by a neo-libralistic culture. Let the market rule with absolutely no plan. Of course if you steal and plunder off the population you need an army to protect you. Also you need to weaponize that army All conducted by the rule of law behind closed doors. Is it legal to spray a toxin onto innocent people who are not committing a crime, it appears as if the law makers, (The Lawyers) many of whom are educated at the Melbourne University School of law have written the laws so as it is OK to do so. Try and take your complaint to a court by suing the police and you will discover where the devil sits as you enter the pits of hell via a civil litigation dispute. The question needs to be asked, Why are a civilian police force using military grade weaponry on people who are protecting our environment and our country from plunder by pirates and why has this been legalised and by whom.

  14. Joshua says:

    I hate to say it as I against violence for the most part. But when do we get to swing back? But if they are going to beat than why can’t we do it back?

    I have left Australia with no interest in returning for now. I have hope, but I could no longer live there and sustain my emotional and mental health.

  15. Helen Fox says:

    I know people who attended, there were older citizens, and academics amongst them. NOT thugs. Peaceful protest is our right. I was interstate so couldn’t attend. If I was hit like that it could have killed me. The sight of a thuglike police man punching a woman in the HEAD from behind was horrifying. The problem of male violence towards women was evident right there! No wonder women die weekly in Australia! Disgusting. Premier Andrews, WHO instructed this kind of behaviour from the police????

  16. Dennis says:

    Advice, “DO NOT FLUSH YOUR EYES OUT WITH WATER IF PEPPER SPRAYED”. Let the natural tears flush them.Using water will only make it worse

  17. Ross Allan says:

    Don’t place yourself in a situation where you are obstructing or hindering Police. They are working and you don’t need to be in everyone’s face.

  18. […] Footage shows police grabbing a Channel 7 journalist and hurling him in random directions, as he stumbles around, bewildered and trying, pointlessly, to do the right thing. There are many videos of capsicum spray being deployed wildly into crowds, including towards journalists, one of whom wrote: […]

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