Remove police from public health responses

Sunday 5th July 2020

The Police Accountability Project is calling for the immediate withdrawal of police from the public housing estates experiencing the hard COVID lockdown in Flemington and North Melbourne and for future emergency lockdowns to be re-designed.

 

We call on government, the Department of Health & Human Services (DHHS) and all agencies to abide by the principle of ‘Do No Harm’ in their responses to this pandemic. No COVID health responses or intervention should be undertaken in a way that worsens the situation to which it is responding.  Architects of COVID responses need to be cognizant of and mitigate any potential harms caused by this intervention.

 

Interventions into this pandemic, however necessary the rationale, are not neutral.  Government and public health interventions can either strengthen the health and capacities of affected communities or they can cause harm. The policing we have seen in Victoria to date and scale of the policing we have seen last night and today in Flemington & North Melbourne, has caused and continues to cause harm.

 

The presence of large numbers of armed police causes fear, stress, anxiety, confusion and can generate distrust in public health messaging. People are more likely to receive fines, charges and criminalizing responses rather than support.  The choice to deploy large numbers of public order police as the government’s frontline response removed agency, self determination and control from residents, local community networks and health responses.

 

The policing of the emergency lock-down takes place in the context of long-running and well documented community concerns and extensive legal action to regard to discriminatory policing, documented racial profiling, policing operations targeting particular ethnicities and multiple incidents of severe human rights abuses over many years. Victoria Police and Victorian Governments have consistently failed to take adequate measures to address, monitor or prevent discriminatory policing.

 

It was naive of government and health authorities not to take this into consideration when tasking Victoria Police with enforcing these restrictions.

 

We understand that practical care, support and relief for residents for the nine towers is now underway. That police were employed as the first response before basic necessities such as food,  healthcare or even clear multilingual information had been provided is telling.

 

It is paternalistic that people living in these towers were not considered active partners in the need to prevent COVID transmission and instead have been made to feel like criminals in an urban detention centre.

 

The ‘Do no harm’ principle extends to the requirement that interventions should not undermine local capacities or efforts. The communities residing in these estates are resilient and like the rest of Victoria have been self isolating, getting tested, supporting each other throughout this pandemic. Important self-organising and mutual support structures put in place by residents themselves need to be supported not undermined.

 

We urge that in any future emergency COVID lockdowns in Victoria be drastically re-designed.

 

The need for rapid and urgent measures to control the spread of coronavirus is undisputed.   But health and social workers, housing workers and community leaders need to be resourced and empowered to communicate the Chief Health Officer’s directions in partnership with residents and their associations, instead of public order police.


 

 

Image above: AAP Image/Daniel Pockett

Any encounters with police can be reported at www.covidpolicing.org.au

Free and independent legal advice for public housing residents currently in lockdown is available by calling 1800 113 432. 8am – 6pm Monday to Friday.

For urgent after-hours legal advice call 0434 136 501

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