Comment: A tale of two protests

One photo is an irresistible glimpse of humanity, while the other has unfortunately put a question mark over the actions of our police.

Last weekend serves as an ugly reminder that racism is alive and well in our country with Reclaim Australia rallies taking place nationwide.

To ensure these anti-Islam protests weren’t a one-sided affair, there were anti-racism protests taking place at the same time. For the most part all these protests were relatively peaceful, except in Melbourne where things took a bit of an ugly turn.

 

Protestors from the anti-racism groups say they were targeted by the police and sprayed with capsicum spray.

In addition, an image of a Victoria police officer seemingly high-fiving an anti-Islam protestor was released leading a number of people on social media to wonder – whose side were the police actually on?

It's vital that our police give the appearance that they are neutral, that they are upholders of the law and will side with justice – no matter their personal political preferences.

Victoria police called the high-five a "split second action in a dynamic environment." 

"Speculation around the meaning of the interaction in such circumstances is both unfair and unfounded," the statement said.

But it leads one to wonder: isn’t it the nature of a police officer’s job to work in a dynamic environment?

And is this "split second action" telling?

In 2013, two Victoria police officers were suspended for a racist incident. In 2010, racist emails being circulated within the Victoria police force were highlighted. That same year it was revealed that Victoria police officers were targeting youths of African descent - this eventually lead to an enquiry and cultural awareness training within the police force.

It does make one wonder: was this enough?

Over in America this same weekend as the Reclaim Australia rallies, the KKK had their own protests and a picture emerged showing a black police officer assisting a KKK member who was overcome by the heat

Many praised this as an act of kindness, an officer putting his own feelings aside to assist a member of the public, no matter what they represent. As one Twitter user put it, the officer was fighting hatred by showing compassion.

Rather than spraying protestors with pepper spray, should our police be showing more compassion, especially to those fighting racism? Especially since there have been charges of racism made against their own institution?

At the end of the weekend, there were no winners – only losers.

Reclaim Australia served to highlight the bigotry that exists within certain factions of this country, the message being promoted by the anti-racism groups was marred by violence, and Victoria police came out looking more racist than ever.

Worse still, our PM - who has banned his MPs from going on a talk show on the supposedly neutral ABC - didn’t feel the need to ban those same MPs from speaking at the Reclaim Australia rallies.

The only winner it seems was a cop on the other side of the world helping a racist man in his time of need.

The fact that so many of us seem to be making so much of this shows how dire our own faith is in the police the world over.

Saman Shad is a storyteller and playwright.

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