‘This is not a one-off’: Hares & Hyenas police raid shows the reality of violent policing
At 2am on Saturday morning, police raided the home of two queer community members, Rowland Thomson and Crusader Hillis.
They live above Hares & Hyenas, the bookshop and community space they also run.
Thinking it was a gang of homophobes, one of their friends – Nik Dimopoulos – ran outside and was so violently set upon that he may not be able to use his left arm again. The police claimed they were there looking for an “armed Lebanese gang member”.
The first questions that came out across social media was if this was a homophobic attack.
As a community, it is still a daily reality that the police, or others, could enact violence on us. We still carry the weight of our history, where the state legally sanctioned violence with impunity against us. The Tasty raid, after all, was only in 1994.
We can barely imagine the terror Nik felt as he thought he was going to die on the street outside Hares & Hyenas, or the terror Rowland and Crusader endured in the dark.
As the dust settled we learned that it was not an attack against LGBTQIA+ people in particular, but for many the fear was still palpable.
For communities who face sustained racial targeting by police, especially Indigenous communities who remain at the ground zero of deaths in custody and hyper-criminalisation, this is an ongoing reality.
Whilst some LGBTQIA+ people may be able to successfully access support from the police, other members of our community cannot.
That the police specified the ethnicity of this supposed gang member speaks to the realities of who is targeted by police.
This was not a “stuff up”, as claimed by Luke Cornelius, Assistant Commissioner of the Northwest Metro Command.
Nik was detained outside of Hares & Hyenas because his appearance fit a racialised description. He was not the person police were hunting for, but this violence should not be tolerated against anyone.
While the identity of the target person was mistaken, its execution is par for the course of a police institution that uses brutal force.
The reality for many people in Victoria, particularly Black, Indigenous and People of Colour (BIPOC), is that the risk of being targeted by violent policing is ever present, and when it occurs, is unlikely to spark a throng of media and an apology from police.
This violence is the reality of a police force that continues to target young people of colour, one that will not release data on racial profiling, and where – despite a Parliamentary Committee report calling for independent investigations of police – the overwhelming number of complaints are returned to the force for self-investigation.
Consider the numerous matters coming to the Police Accountability Project, located within the Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre.
In another case of mistaken identity, an international student from India* had just left a cafe with his friends on Sydney Road in 2017 when police involved in a car chase mistook him for another Brown man they had been pursuing.
After pulling guns on him, and demanding that he put his hands up and get on his knees, police used so much force in their mistaken arrest that his jaw was broken and he lost consciousness when police smashed his head into the pavement.
Or when police racially abused, punched and used capsicum spray on a group of African-born young people during the raid of a home over the theft of two bags of chips.
Then, after a complaint investigation by the former-Office for Police Integrity found evidence of excessive force and racial targeting, the matter was referred back to Victoria Police to take action.
This evidence was then ignored by Victoria Police and even a successful civil action did not lead to any charges or accountability.
Or of the Yarraville family, originally from Eritrea, who had their door kicked open by armed police in search of their son, who no longer lived at the property.
In this case, the police raid saw his mother pushed aside in her wheelchair and the family dog capsicum sprayed while police turned through dressers and ransacked bedrooms in search of a person who was not there.
These matters are just a few of those that come through the Police Accountability Project, which focuses on racialised policing.
Victoria has been in the throes of a manufactured and racist crime panic, where despite falling crime rates, black and brown kids are being locked up and refused bail at unprecedented rates, on the basis of punitive law reforms, largely driven by the rhetoric of “home invasions”.
However, when armed police invade homes and use terrifying force, the response by the state is strikingly different.
The raid at Hares & Hyenas bookshop was abhorrent and should never have happened. It terrified those who were targeted and sent fear through our community.
We must seek accountability and redress in this matter.
However, we need to view this incident in the context of the sweeping expansion, militarisation and authorisation of violent policing in Victoria – and to understand and resist the way this force is targeted at Black and Brown communities, with nothing like the level of community backlash and state response seen here.
It is important to note that police have apologised for the mistaken identity of the target in this raid, not for the tactics they used.
The tactics of terror and brutality mark the standard operating procedure of these predominantly racialised raids. This is normal policing on display.
*The client in this matter wishes to remain anonymous