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

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

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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?

 
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