Thugs on a futile crusade

By Wayne Gatt

This opinion piece was published in the Herald Sun on Thursday 23 September 2021

The photograph of a woman sitting in her car on Tuesday, paralysed with fear and surrounded by amped-up thugs, is representative of a disturbing divide we’ve seen erupt in Melbourne in recent days.

This woman appears to be going about her business, navigating the difficulties and challenges that all Melbournians have and continue to endure in lockdown, like so many of us have done. But, because she’s not with the mob, she’s deemed to be against it, and thus, she becomes the target of the moment. The average law-abiding and community-minded citizen is just one of a growing list of perceived enemies of the destructive ragtag movement we’ve seen take hold in Melbourne’s CBD.  

Police, journalists, union officials, the Government, health officials, passing motorists and pedestrians are among the deep sea of enemies in their sights and their chants.

These people see you and I as ‘sheep’, as they themselves blindly follow each other through CBD streets, in no particular direction and with no particular direction, on their path to indiscriminate anarchy.

While many watch their despicable behaviour on television and shake their heads in anger, our police are on the ground, representing those at home, as the physical barrier between anarchy and civility.

That often comes at a cost.

For their efforts, our members have become the principal target of violence and aggression. They have been injured and hospitalised. Their families have watched on and held their breath. We all have something to lose by virtue of the protests of the last few days, but the families of our members have the most to lose.

On Saturday, we saw police being pelted with bottles, rocks, being swarmed and being assaulted. On Monday, senseless violence was again thrust upon police, as they were confronted and assaulted in their vehicles as they held an increasingly thin line.

Yesterday, we saw groups of protesters again snake aimlessly through the city, taking police from their work and finally converging on one of the most sacred places for Victorians, our Shrine. 

The Shrine is a place of reflection, of solemnity, not a place of power or struggle. These thugs see themselves as ‘freedom fighters’ in the same vein as our soldiers. They are nothing of the sort. These people are the antithesis of our soldiers.

Police and PSOs have done their best to contain the mob’s behaviour and limit their destruction. It’s been gruelling and very dangerous work. It’s hard to prepare a rigid plan for such a flaky movement, but our members have backed up day after day after day to do their best to protect what the community has sacrificed their freedom for – a more hopeful future. 

It’s their job and it’s a vitally important one, but it’s certainly not theirs alone.

COVID-19 has been incredibly challenging for our community.  It has been draining for our doctors and nurses who have, without a sliver of self-interest, given so much to help those the virus has struck.  It’s been draining for our ambos and firefighters, whose essential work means they have been hyper-exposed to the virus.  It has been frustrating for our teachers, who have had tried so valiantly to nurture our kids remotely day after day, our shopkeepers, who have somehow kept us fed and supplied and everyone else who has done their bit, played their part or sacrificed something for someone else. 

These are the real freedom fighters.

Their 18-month plus commitment to helping the community through what we hope are the final stages of this pandemic, makes the actions of this mob in the past few days appear all the more foolish, frustrating and futile.

In many ways, this is a reflection of what police work is so often about, keeping the gains of the majority from being squandered by a minority.

Good people have shown leadership, stood up and condemned this behaviour, voiced and supported our hard working and brave police who have tried to manage the tense situations at a time when, they too are stretched, tired and over it. 

It shouldn’t be underestimated just how reassuring it is for our police and PSOs to have the importance of their work recognised by the very community whose sacrifices they are seeking to protect.

Our members will continue this work and they will not abandon their community as this mob has done. They have a resolve and a conviction that their work, while unpopular and testing at times, is necessary to safeguard others. 

 

Wayne Gatt is Secretary/CEO of The Police Association Victoria