Paul Gregoire

About Paul Gregoire

Paul Gregoire is a Sydney-based journalist and writer. He has a focus on civil rights, drug law reform, gender and Indigenous issues. Along with Sydney Criminal Lawyers, he writes for VICE and is the former news editor at Sydney’s City Hub.

“A double standard”: Arrested rally organiser calls out NSW police commissioner

According to the organiser of today’s Black Lives Matter protest, only their movement draws ire from the premier, the police commissioner and the PM himself. 



Last Friday, the NSW Supreme Court was taking a short recess during the proceedings that involved NSW police commissioner Mick Fuller attempting to have today’s Sydney Black Lives Matter rally shut down.

The word at that moment was that barrister Felicity Graham was “gunning” for Fuller as she pointed out that he’d failed to follow correct statutory processes when he publicly announced on 2GB Radio that he was going to take (rally organiser) Padraic Gibson to the court prior to the rally organiser having been notified.

At the time, the organisers of the rally had vowed to go ahead regardless, while Fuller had indicated that he’d be sending in his officers to fine demonstrators whether his bid to shut down the protest was successful or not.

As Jesse Dorsett and Emma Elsworthy of the ABC noted earlier today, “Police have arrested six people, including organiser Paddy Gibson, at a Black Lives Matter rally in Sydney. Mr Gibson was put in the back of a police vehicle before the rally was due to start at 12:00pm. Supporters said they would march anyway while observing social distancing and other health and safety protocols like wearing masks. There was a large police presence at the Domain in preparation for the rally, including riot and dog squads. As demonstrators were marched out of the Domain by police, organisers told the crowds to ‘disperse, disperse’. Some protestors headed to Hyde Park, which is about a 10-minute walk from the Domain, but they did not congregate as police officers trailed them. After the protesters were detained, a post on the event’s Facebook page, Justice For David Dungay Jnr, instructed people on the way to the march to stay away instead.”

Prior to today’s outcome, the commissioner has been basing his arguments on why it shouldn’t go ahead on the false assertion that a BLM rally in Melbourne caused COVID-19 to spread in that city. Fuller has failed to mention that the last Sydney BLM rally led to no spike in virus cases despite being sizable.

However, in his new position as the economic adviser to the Berejiklian government, he did appear on Sky News stating that another protest could put the NSW economy back five to ten years.


A stark disconnect

“There is no doubt there is more to it,” Padraic Gibson said during the court recess on Friday morning. “From the start, there has been a double standard in the regulation that exists in public gatherings versus the regulations around more commercial and recreational activities.”

The UTS Jumbunna Institute senior researcher gave the example of it being permissible to have “a 500 person unseated, unticketed indoor gathering”, while at the same time outdoor public gatherings are limited to no more than 20 people.

“Now, there is no logic to that whatsoever,” Gibson told Sydney Criminal Lawyers. “It is safer to be outdoors than indoors. And that to me is just a blatant attempt to try and stop protests.”

According to the social justice activist, there’s also an obvious bias in the way the police have been approaching First Nations rallies during the pandemic, compared with any of the other protests that he has been attending since COVID-19 hit.

“It is only the Black Lives Matter rallies where you’ve had really high-profile attacks from political leaders – the premier, the prime minister, the police commissioner,” Gibson made clear. “They’ve been condemning these rallies and directing police to act in a certain way.”

“It’s obviously an issue that strikes at the heart of the unjust political system we live in.”


Stop Aboriginal deaths in custody

Following the second protest, there were those that remarked that they hadn’t seen such support for the Stop Aboriginal Deaths in Custody movement since the 1980s.

Indeed, the outpouring of sentiment back then led to the establishment of a Royal Commission into Indigenous custody deaths.

The investigation handed down its 339 recommendations in 1991. These included that both arrest and incarceration be measures of last resort.

However, since then, a further 438 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody.

And First Nations people are the most incarcerated people on the planet.

In March this year, there were 12,902 Indigenous inmates in Australian prisons. This accounted for 29% of the adult prisoner population, while Indigenous people make up less than 3% of the overall populace.

But, while there was a global outcry over police violence towards people of colour, following the killing of Floyd, certain NSW police officers simply paid it no mind.

On 22 June, a Sydney officer tasered a First Nations man in the face in a park, while on 1 June, a local constable threw a 16-year-old Aboriginal boy face-first onto the ground. And Mick Fuller went on to put the assault on the teenage boy down to one of his officers having “a bad day”.


A political ruse

In his recent interview with Sky News, the NSW police commissioner asserted that the rise in COVID-19 cases in Victoria was linked to the Melbourne Black Lives Matter protest, which is a theory that has been debunked by the experts on a number of occasions.

Meanwhile, not much mention has been made of the fact that the 6 June Sydney Black Lives Matter rally – that saw tens of thousands converge on the city’s CBD – has had no COVID-19 cases linked back to it.

Indeed, rising cases in the Sydney metropolitan region have been linked to pubs and restaurants.

“There is no evidence that there was any transmission of COVID-19 at the Melbourne rally,” Gibson added. “And yet, we’ve had conservative political leader after conservative political leader, the Murdoch Press, and the police commissioner here in NSW, continue to perpetuate this lie.”

“And they’ve done a very good job in terms of creating a view in the public mind that the rallies are responsible for transmission,” he concluded, just prior to re-entering court.





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