For years now, the Australian public has been facing increasing militarisation of the police; with many frontline officers and specialist units across the country being trained in military-style thinking and tactics. There has also been the introduction of military-grade weapons and protective gear. The Lindt Café siege in 2014, the Paris terror attacks of 2015, and the January 2017 Melbourne Car Attack are said to have all been major influences behind this militarisation. However, we don’t think it is of any coincidence that the conception and implementation of many of these units also coincides with both the recent social unrest in the United States and the fact that 2018 and 2019 saw the highest number of workers’ strikes around the world since the 80s. The state is preparing itself against social unrest and organised working-class actions. This is not a “war on terror” – the police and the state are the terror here. This is a war being waged against the working-class.
While VICPOL has stated that officers will not be carrying the $6k a piece semi-automatic rifles on their regular patrols and they will only be reserved for dealing with sieges, terror events and combating gun-related crime; SAPOL have spoken out against public backlash and defended their new militarised Security Response Section (SRS). The SRS came into operation a few months into the pandemic and now regularly patrol places such as: Adelaide Central Market, Rundle Mall, Adelaide Oval, and Adelaide Railway Station. The defence of this unit has been on the grounds of it “bolstering public safety”.
How could anyone possibly feel safer? An institution, known to be violent towards regular working people, now has its members carrying weapons which leave injuries that trauma surgeons have compared to a grenade going off inside of the body. It therefore comes as no surprise that an increase in military-grade weaponry among cops is met with an increase in shooting-related deaths. They say that they want to protect us, but it is clear that, as always, their function lies with protecting private property. In this case, this protection involves inflicting large amounts of fear and making people’s bodies explode if they decide to go beyond intimidation and actually use these weapons.
The SRS’ patrolling of Adelaide has resulted in thousands of people signing a petition making it clear that this militarisation does not make them feel any safer, and that they wish for this unit to be disbanded and for money to be redirected into education and social programs. On top of the 9 million dollars that was spent on establishing the SRS, SAPOL has also just announced a further 8.5 million dollars is going to be spent on rolling out at least 3,000 stab-proof vests over the next few years. Accounts of multiple SRS officers waving their semi-automatics around while circling a small group of Indigenous people who were peacefully sitting on the grass in a city park, along with individuals being bailed up against the wall or slammed to the ground in Rundle Mall side streets, have caused shock and the feeling that we are living in dystopian times. This is only an amplification of the terror that the police have always inflicted due to their role in managing capitalist property relations.
In Victoria, Indigenous legal services are calling into question the validity of police using COVID-19 powers to arrest at least 50 protesters on Djab Wurrung land in the state’s central region. The protesters were opposing the felling of a centuries-old culturally significant tree to make way for a highway that would save people around 3 minutes on their commute. VICPOL did not even send in militarised units to break up this protesting, but as usual, they still managed to use excessive force, with groups of cops piling onto individual protesters and grabbing others by the head. People were handcuffed despite complying with police directions and at least one person cried out that they believed their arm had been broken upon being pulled out of a metal barrel.
This has not been the only instance of cops in Victoria using COVID related powers to target workers. On 2 September, an Indigenous man named Korey Penny was racially profiled and assaulted while riding his pushbike to work in Melbourne, the attack caused him to be hospitalised and lose all feeling in one of his arms. On 3 September, a pregnant Ballarat woman was arrested on incitement charges and handcuffed in front of her young children, despite stating she had a prenatal care appointment in an hour and offering to take down the Facebook post announcing a “peaceful anti-lockdown protest”.
The pandemic has especially taken its toll on people’s mental health and resulted in a significant increase in people presenting to the Emergency Department for such issues. On 13 September, the police left a man in an induced coma after hitting him with their car and then stomping on his head. This attack occurred after the man had spent 19 hours waiting in the emergency room and had then smashed glass hospital doors and ran off, while he was experiencing a Bipolar related mental health episode. A few days later, the police shot another mentally ill man after he was found wandering a carpark with a large knife.
There is no way to rid the world of police forces, militaries, and prisons without getting rid of that which gave birth to them: the state and private property. The current calls from activists to merely “defund” or “abolish” the police, by having social workers and psychologists take their place, will only see the police be called by a different name. Such an action would also only sew distrust of all workers in these fields rather than fulfil the desire of making people more trusting of the police.
Other calls to simply get rid of specific police units, such as the SRS (as mentioned before) or Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) in the US, fall even shorter of the mark. The discriminatory and violent behaviours directed at workers by police, due to their class position being coupled with mental illness, gender or belonging to a minority group are an inherent factor of capitalism. This is another reason why the sole issue campaigning and typical calls from “leftist” activist groups truly do not come close to tackling the real issue at hand.
The police can make a large impact on the lives of workers as individuals through inflicting arrest, various sorts of harm and death upon us outside of organised working-class actions. However, it is only through such organised actions that we can put an end to the police. Any acts of disorganised or individual violence are simply a political dead end. This is not to say that we don’t understand riots to be an expression of social dissatisfaction that could pave the way to bigger more organised actions, nor is it to say that we do not support the safety and release of workers arrested as a result of confrontation – we do. But it is to say that harming individual police members and politicians has in many cases throughout history only resulted in stricter security measures, a strengthening of the state and further repression. An example of this in Australia is the police in Sydney not being routinely armed until after the “Bridge Street Affray” in 1894 where a group of men tried to rob a safe and then beat the shit out of several cops.
We need to go beyond petitions, peaceful protests and individualist acts which merely inflict worry or fear into those who exploit and repress us. We need to see that the capitalist class and its state institutions no longer have the power to exploit or inflict violence and repression. It is only through the actions of a self-organised working class into revolutionary vessels, such as workers’ councils and the presence of a centralised international class party, that we can tear down capitalism and all of these dreadful institutions as a whole. If you would like to help work towards the realisation of this party, please get in touch with us.
Internationalist Communists Oceania (ICO)
Friday, 30 October, 2020
This article was written to be turned into a flyer that was distributed at an anti police militarisation protest on the 30th of October 2020 in South Australia. A longer series of articles on the origins of police and the role that they play in Australia will be available on this website soon.