Following the shocking reports of Northern Ireland police officers stripping, posing and photographing a suicide victim’s body, police misconduct allegations worryingly continue to surface—this time, around the world. An inquiry into the response of Australian officers in regard to the crime of domestic violence has shed light on damning evidence of profuse sexism by Queensland’s state police service.
As per The Guardian, an unnamed officer—kept anonymous for legal reasons—broke down in tears during his testimony to the commission behind the inquiry, detailing the horrors he had witnessed by colleagues. The policeman in question stated that he had allegedly seen victims of domestic and sexual abuse being turned away from judiciary aid, with officers claiming they “deserved to be raped”—with rape itself being described as “surprise sex.”
“Often what I’ve observed is police saying, ‘Why aren’t they calling us when this happened? We can’t do anything about it now’,” the officer told the inquiry.
The offensive remarks towards the victims only got worse as the anonymous serving officer went on to provide further examples in his testimony on Wednesday 13 July. “Domestic violence is just foreplay,” “I can see why he does it to her” and, unbelievably, “she’s too ugly to be raped” were among the comments made by various Queensland officers.
Such conduct did not end with just female victims of violence but also extended to female colleagues within the state’s police service, who had been covertly called “b*tches,” “f*cking sluts,” “mole,” and “C*nty McC*nt Face” by the male officers.
The current investigation, which began on 30 May 2022 and remains ongoing, comes after a December 2021 report—noted by Vice—from the Women’s Safety and Justice Taskforce (WSJT) that disclosed rampant and “widespread cultural issues” within Queensland’s police force. Not only does this inquiry aim to look at the issue at hand, in regard to the response to domestic violence and sexual abuse cases, but it is also addressing the efficacy of its current police complaints procedure—put simply, officers investigating other officers.
The inquiry has also heard from retired Queensland police officer Audra Pollard today, Thursday 14 July, in a written statement where she also confirmed that she had heard policemen “refer to callers in a derogatory way,” and purposely avoid particular neighbourhoods or dispatched calls of domestic violence claims, ABC reported.
“It becomes very evident when a crew is dispatched to attend a job in a particular suburb, but you hear them using the radio to advise that they are [going] in a completely different direction to where the call for service is,” Pollard said.
The anonymous male officer shared this same experience with the inquiry in his interview, detailing a personal experience in a police car with a colleague who deliberately drove away from an area where there had been a domestic violence call. “I’m telling them what job we’re going to, they’ve interjected and gone, ‘No, no, no, no, fuck that, we’re not doing this job,” he said.
Racist rhetoric was also prevalent among the force with examples of officers using derogatory language in reference to Indigenous Australians. “What do we expect? He’s a savage,” the hearing was told. Women of colour (listed examples were Chinese and Taiwanese women) who were victims of domestic violence and were not fluent English speakers were mocked for their inability to communicate with officers.
“It’s so clear to me that some of the core business that happens in my station, it’s misogyny and it’s dehumanisation, and it is negligence,” the anonymous officer stated.
On the 31st day of my quarantine, I received a call from a friend; he sounded upset and explained that he had just been stopped by the police while going for his daily run around the neighbourhood. According to him, the police approached him and spoke to him aggressively. They then questioned the reason behind his activity by making threatening remarks, repeatedly ordering him to go back home and reminding him that in other countries a man running around for no reasonable explanation would have been thrown in jail. This encounter happened in Italy, where, at the time, running alone in proximity to your house was still allowed.
“I told you the police would start abusing their power,” my friend told me. During the first weeks under lockdown—when the regulations were still blurred and our future uncertain—we did find ourselves repeatedly speculating on the possible threats that a state of emergency could mean regarding the state overpower and potential police misconduct. Yet, I partially disagreed with my friend: the abuse of power by the police isn’t a by-product of the pandemic, it has been happening around us for way longer. The only difference today is that under these exceptional circumstances, what was once only visible to those who were systematically targeted by the police has suddenly become visible to us all.
Law enforcement is playing a big part in managing the COVID-19 crisis as more and more countries all over the world are calling for an increase in restrictive regulations concerning social and physical distancing. As reported by Al Jazeera in a recent article on police violence on the time of pandemic, after a couple of weeks since a mandatory curfew was implemented in Kenya, there have been more deaths from the police than virus-related ones.
Kenya is far from being the only country accused of such behaviour. Stories of police brutality enacted in the name of control and the enforcement of rules have spread like the virus itself, showing officers in India, Mexico, Egypt and other countries threatening people in the streets, using physical punishment in public and forcing people to follow containment measures at gunpoint. As the days pass, it is evident why more concern over the sovereignty of the police is rising.
“The point is that the police—contrary to public opinion—are not merely an administrative function of law enforcement; rather, the police are perhaps the place where the proximity and the almost constitutive exchange between violence and right that characterizes the figure of the sovereign is shown more nakedly and clearly than anywhere else,” wrote the Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben in 1991. Fast forward 30 years from then, one could argue that his words are still relevant. What is happening in front of our eyes isn’t a shift in the way the police act, but rather the unsettling revelation of their unbridled power and sovereignty in countries all over the world.
Of course we should avoid making generalisations, but as police helicopters loom over our heads throughout Easter weekend and the mobility of citizens is (rightly) limited to maintain the spreading of the virus, it’s not just a right but an obligation to scrutinize and question the modalities in which those same rules are imposed on citizens. If we can learn one thing from this pandemic it is that, as solidarity and a shared sense of support are spreading, pre-existing inequalities and state flaws grow even larger.
It is in this mindset that we need to look at some of the police’s coercive attitudes, not as an unavoidable shift in behaviour, but as a testament to a systemic issue. The question right now is not whether law enforcement agencies need to undergo some changes or not; they clearly do and that’s not new. As we witness more and more police violence during the pandemic, the real question is whether this sudden awakening will remain among citizens, and hopefully governments too, once this crisis is over.