Mardi Gras was meant to be our night. A night where we celebrate our victories over discrimination and prejudice, honour those who fought for us in years gone by, and dance our pants off because we can.
When footage and reports of excessive use of police force on parade night emerged last week, it touched a very raw nerve and brought back memories of our darker years.
Anecdotally, there has been a feeling among many that police presence throughout the Mardi Gras Festival has been heavy-handed – possibly more so than in previous years.
In a sense, the two incidents reported widely in the media from parade night were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Many in our community are angry, and behind that anger lie hurt and mistrust.
So how do we now move forward? What will help heal the relationship our community has with the police force?
First, we need a rigorous and transparent inquiry into the incidents that occurred at Mardi Gras. The premier and police minister have given assurances that the inquiry will be given priority.
The police inquiry will be overseen by the NSW Ombudsman, which is an independent watchdog established under its own legislation, and has extensive investigative powers. The Ombudsman can be extremely critical of police (and has been recently, as in the case of Brazilian student Roberto Laudisio Curti, who died in March 2012 after being tasered by police officers).
Thanks to social media and LGBTI networks, NSW Police and the government know that we are watching them closely, and that they will not be able to get away with anything less than complete accountability.
Beyond the specific incidents at Mardi Gras, we also need to think about strategies to ensure that such incidents do not occur again.
We need solutions for the whole community, and it is critical that these solutions are discussed not just by a few organisations or individuals, but by the broader community.
For that reason, we are joining other LGBTI organisations, politicians and police to hold a community forum on Tuesday, March 19 at 7pm at the Teachers Federation Hall, Surry Hills, to discuss policing practices at this year’s Sydney Mardi Gras and initiate a plan to improve policing at future LGBTI community festivals and events, including Mardi Gras. We hope the forum will provide an opportunity for respectful and constructive discussion.
More details can be found here.
Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers were established in NSW Police in 1990. For 23 years we have worked to build trust and co-operation between our community and the police.
What happened last week was undeniably painful and it will take time for the community to restore trust, but using the foundation we have built and with good will, understanding and determination on all sides, we can walk this journey together.