Hard News by Russell Brown


Scuffling and screaming on The Left

Which was the greatest irony? That Len Richards, the Labour delegate who took a swing with a megaphone was, until last year co-leader of the Alliance? That he last week published a statement unequivocally condemning both the Ruatoki raids and the Terrorism Suppression Act?

Or that his partner, and fellow Labour delegate, Jill Ovens, was a prime mover in the Council of Trade Unions' recent resolution calling for the repeal of the Terrorism Suppression Act, as an unacceptable constraint on free speech?

The protestors wouldn't let Ovens be heard when she came out to talk to them, even though an organiser handed her a megaphone. They were too infatuated with their own chanting -- "Lies! Lies! Lies!" -- to actually listen.

She gave up, only for Richards to pick up the megaphone, demanding to know why she wasn't getting a hearing, and beginning a screaming match, principally with a fellow unionist, Jared Phillips: "You've destroyed the Left!" shouted Richards, clearly losing his temper.

Phillips and a woman (who I presume was John Minto's partner, Bronwyn Davies) advanced on Richards, and Phillips made several grabs for the megaphone (fair enough: it did belong to the protesters) before Richards, in a moment of madness, lunged and swung the megaphone at Phillips before retreating.

That was a bloody dangerous thing to do: he could have seriously hurt someone. Fortunately, the video footage suggests that Phillips fended off the swing and wasn't struck square in the face.

It was still unacceptable. Richards' five-minutes-old party membership should be in question now -- it'd be good riddance, given the damage he's done -- and he has only himself to blame if the police do decide to prosecute for assault.

Why didn't they apprehend him then and there? In the One News video, captured from the police vantage point, the incident is swift, and Richards retires. The fact that the police agreed to investigate once they'd seen the TV3 pictures suggests that they didn't fully grasp what had happened at the time.

The guy who grappled with Richards on his way out (and right in front of the police) was arrested, perhaps unfairly: although his contact with Richards might have counted as assault on another day.

Indeed, on another day, a great deal of what went on would have been grounds for arrest. If, in a night on the town, you or I had physically jostled policemen, repeatedly screamed obscenities in their faces and, in one case, spat in a policeman's face, we'd certainly be spending a night in the cells.

When you look at the extended TV3 video (and I'm loving the fact that they've been posting wild footage like this), the most striking impression is of the restraint of the police on the scene. I don't think I'd be able to maintain that kind of composure through two hours in the face of people who, in some cases, looked plain hysterical.

There are several priceless moments. One is when the police dutifully play the game and pick up and move one of the people in Guantanamo costume -- and a cop carefully puts him down and gives him a gentle pat on the back.

In the other, an unseen party with a megaphone shouts "the police are trying to provoke something! The police are trying to provoke something!" -- while protesters, some of them losing the plot, swear and shout and try and hurl their friends at the police line.

In yet another, one protester, his megaphone propped on the shoulder of a rather patient constable, gamely chants "this is what a police state looks like!". No it isn't, you self-dramatising twit.

One can only imagine how loudly the organisers would have complained had the police behaved towards them the way the protesters behaved towards the police. Officers will have been, of course, under instructions to show restraint. And we should be glad they did. It looks like it wouldn't have taken much for things to get badly out of hand.

The voice of reason surfaced briefly in the subsequent Indymedia thread:

It would be nice if people actually took a deep breath on all sides and ease up. Right now there are people in and out of jail, accused of crimes by the state that could result in a long time in jail. It's time for the New Zealand Left to start thinking, smarten up, and building bridges. And it's time to stop the sort of nonsense that occurred around the megaphone today.

We owe it to ourselves, to our friends, and our futures.

And was swiftly slapped down:

that is precisely what would NOT be nice. that is about theee weakest thing done right now, the opposite is what is called for, dramatically. Why aren't there major traffic jams yet? (very effectice activism), why aren't there some serious punches being thrown back? because they speak one language, violence, and when you (Aotearoans) learn to speak it, they (filthy british pigs) will then listen

John Minto has had a lot to say these past two weeks. He has argued pretty convincingly that, in the case of the four of the 17 arrested who definitely won't be charged with terrorism offences, the police don't have any admissible evidence for any charges at all.

But perhaps now is the time for him to exercise some responsibility for his own side. In a press release under the pompous title Police express regret for their provocative action at Labour Party Conference protest, and with his name at the bottom, Global Peace and Justice Aotearoa explained its action thus:

The protest called for the repeal of the Terrorism Suppression Act of 2002 and its various off-shoots which have resulted in drastically increased powers of surveillance for the police and Security Intelligence Service as well as big increases in resourcing.

Last week, Len Richards wrote this in a blog post which was also carried on Scoop:

The first question that arises is; did the police act judiciously in their 'invasion' of the Tuhoe country, given the past history of the Maori of that area? The second question is; are draconian anti-terror laws that could potentially outlaw hitherto legitimate political activities necessary to deal with such a threat, whether real or perceived?

The answer to both questions must be a resounding; No!

Can Minto really consider that, and what Ovens did with the CTU resolution -- and bear in mind the call for violence in the Indymedia thread, and the people there screeching about "class traitors" -- and not wonder if things have gone badly wrong?

The Sunday papers aren’t full of compelling questions about the Terrorism Suppression Act and its more troubling amendment bill. They're full of trade unionists who wholly agree on the alleged aims of the protest scuffling and screaming at each other like idiots. Is the political right having a laugh? You bet. They're passing the popcorn.

PS: I'm with Audrey Young. Why the change of policy from Helen Clark on commenting on the police operation? She can't meaningfully interfere with the operation, so why comment? The police cases can stand or fall on their own merits, and she really should STFU.

PPS: I've done some research on the Weekend Herald's story about the next-generation party pills, and I can barely comprehend the conduct of the company that was distributing those substances. But more on that tomorrow ...

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