Less than 12 months ago, we saw distressing footage of cases involving police and Mardi Gras parade observers, with many alleging that police used a heavy-handed approach in dealing with Bryn Hutchinson, Jamie Jackson and others.
Both Bryn and Jamie had charges laid against them. Both faced the court system yet both have had their charges either dismissed or withdrawn.
These occurrences, and others galvanised, our community in outrage and fear that we were returning to bad times when LGBTI people were at risk from police instead of under their protection. Many people reported inappropriate searches and the use of offensive homophobic language.
In the aftermath, I met urgently with the Police Minister and the Surry Hills Police Commander to demand action, and we held a community forum with Inner City Legal Centre, Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, ACON and the NSW Gay and Lesbian Rights Lobby. There was a lot of media coverage and many upset people contacted me. Rallies and protest letters, emails, posts and tweets followed.
NSW Police GLBT Corporate Spokesperson Superintendent Tony Crandell has taken seriously your demands for accountability and worked with Mardi Gras planning the 2014 festival. Police must make sure it is safe for everyone at Mardi Gras, including protecting us from homophobic abuse and violence.
The Surry Hills Commander will now control parade policing with local officers who know the community and who he has personally briefed. There will be better liaison with Mardi Gras staff and parade volunteers. There will be open streets after the parade finishes, with enough time for people to disperse.
Senior officers will oversee drug dog operations at parties, with all officers instructed to follow strict controls, and monitored by CCTV. A Fair Play campaign with tips for party goers has been produced to inform community members about the law and their rights. (Everyone should check it out: www.fair-play.org.au/)
Operational police don’t make the decisions about the police complaints system or whether the law allows drug dogs. We’ll need to keep working to get these reforms through government.
Premier Barry O’Farrell’s recent response to my questions in parliament on LGBTI and Mardi Gras policing indicates that the government acknowledges there was a problem last year and has taken some steps to rectify this. We will see how well this has been done throughout this year’s festival.
No one wants a repeat of those sorts of incidents. The work done since last year is a result of our community’s resolve and reflects our effectiveness.
While continuing to work for reform, including the establishment of an independent police complaints body, we should acknowledge our community’s remarkable capacity for collective action and the results we can achieve.
I look forward to celebrating the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras with you and hope to see you at events throughout the season.
Alex Greenwich is independent MP for Sydney in NSW Parliament