Saturday morning September 30th 2023 started out innocently and happily for Lorine of Assange Vigil Melbourne Australia, but within the hour she was injured, bruised and traumatised by Melbourne police.
[Article by Lorese Vera of Canberra Conversations. Republished from https://loresevera.medium.com/julian-assange-goes-to-the-footy-bb89d0f64b96]
Lorine and Simon from Melbourne's Assange Vigil were harassed after being approached by VIC Police. Lorine was… (See video below, 'Julian Assange goes to the Footy, which shows Lorine and Simon at the footy before the police came.)
This 71 year old grandmother has been harassed, handcuffed and humiliated, as she was dragged through a crowd, down some stairs, then hit with a fine, all because she dared to protest the confiscation and probable destruction of a homemade fabric sign made of an old curtain with a soft wooden dowel rod inside that reads ‘Free Julian Assange’. She doesn’t have the funds for professionally printed material, so all she does she does straight from her heart and from her meagre pocket in her attempt to call attention to the plight of Julian Assange. When she called me, I told her to rest up, but she couldn’t, she was expected for her shift at Woolies, where she worked late into the night trembling and in shock and pain.
Many Melbourne residents would have seen Lorine and her small crew outside Flinders Street Railway Station where they faithfully meet rain, hail or shine every single Friday, in their bid to see a terrible injustice put right, that of a fellow Melbournian and Australian Journalist Julian Assange, locked in a maximum security prison in London for exposing the brutality of the war machine and especially that of the USA and its many war crimes.
That morning Lorine met with Simon, also an Assange supporter, for coffee on the way to her usual weekend activity of walking around Melbourne in her Julian Assange hat and T shirt, finding a suitable public place to unfurl her flag or poster, and talk to any passerby who may want to ask questions about Julian. Like any peaceful protester, her aim is not to disrupt or disturb anyone, but to inform people, to spread the word, for example by encouraging them to write a letter to a politician about this politically persecuted Australian Journalist. This is something we have all assumed we have the right to do, and we should not be brutalised or harassed by police while doing it.
It was AFL Grand Final Day and the city was abuzz with happy people heading to the MCG (Melbourne Cricket Ground). As Simon had never experienced the atmosphere of a grand final, Lorine suggested they pass that way as they had an hour to spare before their assignation outside the National Library. Lorine said sadly that as Julian couldn’t be in his home town for the grand final, in their own way they would ‘take Julian along to the footy’.
Outside the gates of the MCG, people were loud and happy, the Hare Krishna’s were out in force with their drums and chanting, taking advantage of the crowd just as Lorine and Simon were. Colourful flags were flying in the wind, citizens carried their team flags and other paraphernalia. Lorine thought the flags looked so good blowing in the wind that they should unfurl theirs on the spot to join in with the festivities.
It was a fantastic atmosphere, so they’d take some photos to put up on Facebook later, then go on to their meeting. Once the Free Assange flag was unfurled, passersby spontaneously called out ‘Free Julian Assange’ and ‘Is he ok?’ ‘Where is he now?’ This may be why the police moved in.
Lorine and Simon were suddenly surrounded by nine police officers and some security, who said they had no right to protest there and that they should move on. Lorine agreed with them, said they were not protesting as such, had another meeting to go to and were in the process of rolling up the flag and moving on, that they’d just stopped for a photo opportunity.
The police seemed to be playing ‘good cop bad cop’ as it was Lorine’s impression that they had a couple of trainees with them who stood back saying nothing while one young burly policeman did most of the talking. He took a very aggressive stance and told Lorine that he’d be taking her flag, saying it was dangerous, while she replied that it did look dangerous the way he was holding it, and explained her method of holding it vertically, rolling it, and inserting it into a sturdy plastic tube she had for the purpose.
Before she could react, he grabbed it out of her hands, snapped it in two, and threw it onto the ground saying he’d be keeping it. Lorine said “Please don’t take my flag, I spent hours hand making it, it’s my property, you have no right to take it, I was not doing anything wrong, I was following instructions, can you please just let us move on, we are trying to”.
For some reason this young thug decided instead to arrest this 71 year old grandmother. He handled her roughly, put her hands behind her back, and put on some kind of triangular type of handcuffs she was able to glimpse as he did it. She was saying “Why are you hurting me? Please take these things off, they are really hurting.” The young officer declared “They are supposed to hurt you”. Meanwhile, Simon was protesting about how they were treating Lorine, with comments like “Why are you hurting her? Aren’t you here to protect people not hurt them?” None of this made any difference to the police who seemed determined to make an example of Lorine. The police asked for Lorine’s name which she spelled for them, yet they continued to aggressively demand her name over and over. At one point she said “Let me look at how you’ve spelt it, yes that’s right, that’s how it’s spelled, you have it down correctly”.
Later she told me that she realized that aggressively being asked the same question she has already respectfully answered over and over again was designed to increase the stress for her and sure enough things got worse. The police told the pair they intended to take them up some nearby stairs and through the crowd to an area they had decided the pair needed to move to. Lorine begged them not to take her through the crowd handcuffed, she told me she was already utterly humiliated and distressed, and that none of the nearby public came to her aid or made any comment. She said the idea of being walked (she assumed walked at this stage) through the crowd handcuffed, was to further humiliate her — she was right. She told the police that she didn’t know her way in the direction they wanted to take her, and would just like to move on in the direction they’d been going. She pleaded over and over for the cuffs to be removed, to stop being hurt, and to allow her to move off as she been intending to do all along. Simon kept saying “Why are you hurting her, she is a 71 year old woman who has done nothing wrong”. All of this fell on deaf ears of course as the police also took Simons name and other details.
Finally, the police merely dragged Lorine down some nearby stairs, she was in pain all of the way, became really distressed and started screaming in pain and terror. At a recent protest in Melbourne, she had witnessed a 70 year old woman who was running and had fallen over and was lying on the ground, being repeatedly sprayed in the face by police with pepper spray. The policeman used so much pepper spray on this elderly woman that her clothes were soaked in it. Lorine imagined all kinds of horrors the thugs may be planning for her and this increased her terror.
While being dragged down the stairs Lorine noted on her right a young female officer who handled her roughly, hurting her arm badly, and an older policeman on the left who was more gentle. Lorine felt that a couple of the officers didn’t much like what was going on. I often wonder if these young officers see their own mothers and grandmothers in people like Lorine, and wonder how they would feel about them being treated in this way. If they were young recruits, they are being trained in techniques of harassment and brutality.
Finally the police merely took the cuffs off Lorine, handed her the flag, and the ‘bully’ tried to hand her the fine, $385 for apparently ‘protesting’ in the wrong area. Standing on her last piece of dignity, Lorine refused to take the fine from the bully and pointing to his colleague said “I will accept the piece of paper from him, he is the only one who is being a gentleman.” The bully handed the fine to the ‘gentleman’ and Lorine took it from his hand. Both Lorine and Simon were fined $385. They returned the broken flag to Lorine, and she noted to me later that the police had ‘weaponised it’ themselves, because the dowel was now in several sharp ended fragments.
So what was the purpose of this piece of violent police theatre? — Because theatre it was. Was it intended to ‘blood’ the young recruits? Does the bully have a special hatred for Julian Assange? None of that matters as much as does the increasing violence that the Australian public are met with from the police — a force most people are brought up to respect. The police are the first people we call when we are in danger, what do we do when we are in danger from these same police?
Immediately after the incident, Lorine went to the city police and attempted to make a statement of police harassment. The young officer at the counter told her they didn’t do ‘that kind of thing here’ and at one point said ‘this is below my pay grade’, then, “If you want to make a complaint, go home and do it online”. Lorine told him she does not own a computer and is not very computer literate in any case. He didn’t care and sent her off.
Lorine trusts her local police station more so went to see them before going home. They too seemed reluctant to do anything but said they’d ‘made a note of it’. She came away not understanding the procedure and not knowing if they had taken her complaint or not. Where does a citizen go to make sure the police are policed?
Lorine was alerted on Facebook that her arrest make the Channel 7 Nightly News and concerned supporters were looking for who it was about. The news had only said ‘A 70 year old Melbourne woman was arrested for protesting the incarceration of Julian Assange’. “How can they know about it?” she asked me, “I didn’t tell anyone”. I explained that most probably the Channel 7 Journalists had called the police and asked for any news about and around the policing of the Grand Final. They more than likely shared the story. Footage has since surfaced of the police surrounding Lorine and Simon, and it may be that the police wished to parade the pair past the media to give them a story. If true, it is appalling.
Can this pathetic point please sink in? The only story the police had to report before the grand final started, not inside the venue but outside on a public path, was the arrest of a 71 year old grandmother waving an old curtain with the words ‘Free Julian Assange’ upon it. Among the thousands of supporters at the footy, most were well behaved but 71 year old Lorine, who walking by and joyfully soaking up the atmosphere was held, assaulted and traumatised by nine ‘law enforcement officers’ who had nothing better to do. Thousands of citizens regularly behave better than our police force. Pathetic.
FREE JULIAN ASSANGE#
Lorese Vera MA Canberra 2/10/2023