Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras chief executive Albert Kruger has called for a full NSW police investigation into the circumstances that led to the ejection of one of the original ‘78ers Barbara Karpinski from her seat in the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) during the Mardi Gras parade on Saturday night

He has also initiated an internal Mardi Gras investigation. 

Kruger told the Star Observer that he is in no doubt that the incident happened. He said that the police action was “unacceptable” and that he is “upset about it to be honest”. 

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“I have already expressed my absolute disgust as to what happened on the night and they are taking it quite seriously,” he said. 

Mardi Gras in a statement on Wednesday apologised to Karpinski. “We would like to express our deepest apologies to the 78er involved and extend that to all 78ers and the wider LGBTQIA+ community. The actions of this officer go against everything Mardi Gras stands for. We will not tolerate actions like this that jeopardize the safety of our community. ” 

Ejected From SCG And Left To Walk Home Alone Without Her Possessions

Karpinski was removed after standing briefly in the stadium seating area holding a handmade poster calling for peace and an end to the war in Ukraine. She was wearing a T-shirt of a news photo of herself as a schoolgirl getting arrested at the first Mardi Gras in 1978. 

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After the photo was taken, she was sitting in the stand when she was approached by a female police officer who asked her to hand over the poster. When Karpinski asked for an explanation, she said that displaying “offensive messages in a licensed premises” was not allowed (the whole of the SCG is regarded as licensed premises). The police officer did not explain why the poster which carried symbols and words for peace, war and love was offensive or under what powers she was acting. 

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Karpinski handed over the poster but a short time later, police returned and told her that she had to leave the premises. Two police officers then escorted her to the gate where they took down her name and address in a police notebook. She was left to walk home in the dark alone and leaving some of her belongings back in the stand.

Police Insisted On Evicting Barbara Karpinski, Says Witness

Mardi Gras ‘78er and filmmaker Barbara Karpinksi (left) was ejected from the Sydney Cricket Ground and 78ers march in the 44th Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras (right). Images: Supplied

Peter Murphy who is also one of the original ‘78er protesters witnessed the incident.  “Barbara Karpinski was trying to explain to the police that her sign was about peace and opposed to war, but they were at best sceptical,” he told Star Observer.

“They had confiscated the sign, but still insisted on evicting Barbara, relying on the SCG being a licensed premises. Barbara did not raise her voice, swear at them, or engage physically with the police.”

Karpinski believes that the police behaviour towards her makes a mockery of the official NSW police apology for the violence and harassment which occurred at the first Mardi Gras, which she and other 78ers received in 2016. She was one of several original protesters who worked with a cross party NSW parliamentary committee that led to the apology. 

“What happened was very disappointing and upsetting,” Karpinski told Star Observer. 

Apologising in 2016 means little unless it’s a living apology. It’s ironic I was ejected from the ‘78er stand by police in 2022 for my values of resistance to war and exercising my right to protest.

Why Wasn’t Mardi Gras Consulted?’

Kruger agreed, saying that making political statements was “the point of Mardi Gras”. 

“This is the time for the community to have their say. This is what we are here for.” 

Karpinski was one of many who carried or wore political messages in the Mardi Gras parade, many of them in support of the people in war torn Ukraine. There was an official minute of silence in support of Ukraine at the beginning of the parade. 

Asked whether Mardi Gras had agreed to the policies for policing inside the stadium, Kruger said, “there is a process”. 

“Whenever something happens on the grounds, they need to connect with the police commander – it doesn’t matter where that is, it’s anywhere throughout the whole vicinity … I want all the details about where this was recorded. Why it wasn’t escalated? Why weren’t we involved in the process? Why weren’t we consulted? Why did no one let us know? The first I knew about it was when I read it in Star Observer,” he said. 

Police Officer Did Not Follow Protocol, Says Mardi Gras

In a historic first Commissioner Karen Webb (not in the picture) led the NSW police contingent at the 2022 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras on March 5. This is the first time that a serving NSW Police commissioner marched in the Mardi Gras parade.

In a statement Mardi Gras said they were “appalled and angry that this incident took place. The police officer involved did not follow protocol and had no right to act in this way.”

“The actions of this officer have not only violated the sacred space we create for self-expression, but it has also unraveled a lot of work that has gone into building a better relationship between the LGBTQIA+ community and NSW Police,” Kruger said in the statement on the Mardi Gras website. 

“We share in the upset that our 78er felt at having been unjustly ejected by Police. We also share the community’s anger that something like this could happen in a place where our community should feel safe to express their views.”

Mardi Gras said that the NSW police had launched an internal investigation into the incident.

“It’s our understanding that NSW Police is taking this incident seriously and have launched an internal investigation into the matter.”

“Every large-scale event in NSW is required by law to have a police presence, and as the one of the largest gatherings in NSW, Mardi Gras is not exempt from this. We will continue working with NSW Police to implement more stringent protocols and operational systems to ensure something like this never happens again. We’ve expressed these sentiments along with our severe disappointment to NSW Police,” the statement said. 

Star Observer has submitted questions to the NSW Police, and will update the story when we receive a response. 

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