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Policing the Mardi Gras

A YouTube video of a police officer allegedly assaulting a Sydney Mardi Gras participant sparked widespread debate about police law enforcement this month. The YouTube video shows a police officer throwing a handcuffed 18 year old to the ground and holding him down with his foot. The incident took place after the Mardi Gras Parade on March 2.

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Jamie Jackson, the handcuffed reveller, was placed under arrest for using offensive language, assaulting police and resisting arrest. An earlier video of poorer quality shows the teen allegedly assaulting the police.

A Mardi Gras policing forum was held on March 19, inviting members of the public, police and government to review the policing practices at the Sydney Mardi Gras.

Redfern resident, norrie mAy-welby said: “They say that the positive outcome of the forum is [gay and lesbian] cultural sensitivity education but why aren’t we addressing the underlying question: Why is bullying the default position for the police?” norrie said she has seen the police bullying at many gay and lesbian rights demonstrations. She believes there is a systemic problem if the superintendents don’t know the police behaviour on the streets.

At the forum, the public expressed concerns about police conduct including homophobic and abusive behaviour, incidents of illegal searches and inappropriate use of drug detection dogs.

Sydney MP Alex Greenwich spoke at the forum, agreeing that the police need to improve. He informed the community of resources available to them to make police behaviour complaints to the local police station, video uploads to NSW Police or direct contact with the NSW Ombudsman.

“Both incidents are being investigated by the NSW Ombudsman and this incident will influence the training of officers and sniffer dog handling for the next Mardi Gras,” Mr Greenwich said.

The YouTube video initially caused outrage but the police have responded positively by taking immediate action, believes gay rights activist, Julie McCrossin. She expressed sadness that this one incident captured in the short YouTube clip could have the power to undermine the positive relationships developed over the last 30 years between police and the Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers. “I don’t think we can ever make a reliable assessment of culpability or responsibility based on short fragments on YouTube,” she said.

However, many still question whether police conduct would have been closely examined if it weren’t for the YouTube video.

norrie mAy-welby believes that the police need to act as a “service” rather than a “force”. “Going forward, I think we need to go back a little bit to the 90s when there was twice as many people in the parade and the crowd management was done by volunteers. I was one of them. We didn’t pick fights, Mardi Gras chose to do it themselves as they didn’t want these fights with the police. No weapons, it was just our community policing themselves.”

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