Police v activists, chilling versus no problem

Two Dunedin anti-TPPA activists have responded differently to police discussing with them their plans for campaigning against the TPPA.

This follows news that police have had additional anti-riot training and growing talk online about riots and violent protest.

Police are in a common position for them of damned if they do and damned if they don’t.

Some have claimed their approach of activists amounts to anti-free speech intimidation, but it isn’t uncommon for the police to try to pre-empt possible trouble by talking to people.

Nationally most attention was given to Dunedin activist Scout Barbour-Evans. NZ Herald reports:

Visits to activists ‘worrying’ trend

A national police campaign to door-knock TPP activists is part of a larger trend of “chilling” opposition to the Government and the right to protest, a civil liberties lawyer says.

Police have been visiting “known activists” opposed to New Zealand’s involvement in the Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement ahead of protests planned in several cities tomorrow.

Lawyer Michael Bott said the tactic appeared to be part of “an increasing trend on the part of the police”.

“They seem to be doing it proactively on behalf of the Government and its projects.

Or proactively in reaction to threats. of targeting political events.

“It’s worrying that New Zealand citizens who are concerned about the agreement suddenly find themselves the target of police.

“It has a chilling effect on freedom of expression and the right to protest.”

Not necessarily. There has been no claim they are trying to stop expression of protest. It depends on how it’s done by the police. And how it’s played by activists.

Scout Barbour-Evans, a Dunedin activist who goes by the gender-neutral pronoun “they”, said an officer knocked on their door about 10am yesterday.

The officer wanted to know what the plans were for the anti-TPP protest in Dunedin, Scout said.

Scout compared the situation to the Springbok tour, saying the increased surveillance felt akin to 1981, particularly following the presence of armed police at Prime Minister John Key’s State of the Nation speech on Wednesday.

By the look of Barbour-Evans they won’t have been born in 1981 so she can’t have felt what that was like. A number of people (it seems like it could be a planned strategy) have been trying to liken TPPA protests with the Springbok tour.

The ODT headlined Police visiting activists labelled ‘a disgrace’.

Police calling and doorknocking activists about their plans to protest the Trans Pacific Partnership agreement is “an absolute disgrace”, Dunedin city councillor Aaron Hawkins says.

“If the police are going door to door intimidating known TPP opponents, in case they might be thinking of expressing their disagreement publicly, then that’s an absolute disgrace,” Cr Hawkins said.

“The TPP has never been primarily about trade, it’s about protecting the interests of big business from the meddlesome interference of democracy.”

Hawkins is closely associated with the Green party. Green leader Metiria Turei calls it Implicit police threat appalling:

“It carries with it an implicit threat and New Zealanders have the right to speak out and have their voices heard. Being an activist isn’t a crime, being an activist is being passionate about something and last time I checked that wasn’t illegal.”

So no actual threat, just one that the Greens view as ‘implicit’.

But less prominently the ODT also reports:

TPP Action Dunedin organiser Jen Olsen said she had spoken to police this week about what was planned for this weekend.

“We’ve got not problem about the police and are happy to tell them what we’re doing, because we have no plans to do anything illegal.”

So no claim there that the police intimidated or tried to stop expression or protest.

If there are violent protests or riots as some activists have promoted over the next week the police are likely to be condemned for doing too much, and condemned for not doing enough.

Leave a comment

13 Comments

  1. Brown

     /  29th January 2016

    I think its wrong to visit activists before they protest when its much tidier to simply arrest them for being rowdy, abusive thugs at the actual protest.

    Reply
    • Rob

       /  29th January 2016

      “…rowdy, abusive thugs…”the ones that are, sure. The ones there for a peaceful protest, hands off.

      Reply
  2. jamie

     /  29th January 2016

    Pete, your naivety about what constitutes “intimidation” is both charming and alarming.

    It’s not difficult to imagine a similar scenario involving yourself. Imagine you get a knock on the door tomorrow morning and find two uniformed Policemen on your doorstep, one a Sergeant.

    They introduce themselves. They know your name and details, they ask you to confirm these. They know about yournz.org, and they ask you if you’re planning to publish anything about the Government this week.

    You say it’s a political blog, you write about all sorts of things.

    They say they are aware that certain bloggers may be planning to write negative articles about the government this week and they’d like to know in advance if you have any such plans or know of anyone else who might be planning an article.

    They ask you if you’ve been in contact with anyone on the internet who might be planning to write about the government.

    You explain that you’ve always been careful not to break the law and they say yes of course, there’s nothing illegal about your blogging activities. But, they say, it’s just best for everyone if they are kept informed of who is planning to write what.

    They take notes of everything you say. They ask if they can take a photograph of you for their records. They leave a business card with the Sergeant’s mobile number and ask that you call him if you’re planning to write anything political, or if you remember anything you’ve forgotten to tell them about.

    The whole exchange is polite and courteous. They apologise for turning up unannounced, but sometimes it’s the easiest way to catch someone at home, they say. As they leave, they even compliment your vege garden.

    No threats are made. No one is stifling your blogging activities. No one is intimidating you.

    Reply
    • Oliver

       /  29th January 2016

      Brilliant comment, well put.

      Reply
      • Pantsdownbrown

         /  29th January 2016

        “They take notes of everything you say. They ask if they can take a photograph of you for their records. They leave a business card with the Sergeant’s mobile number and ask that you call him if you’re planning to write anything political, or if you remember anything you’ve forgotten to tell them about”

        How is this relevant to police knocking on the door of a known activist, asking a few questions and leaving again? Do you have information that this sort of intimidation is occurring with the TPPA activists being questioned by police? If not are you not comparing apples with oranges?

        Reply
        • jamie

           /  30th January 2016

          “How is this relevant to police knocking on the door of a known activist, asking a few questions and leaving again?”

          It’s relevant because that’s precisely what I described. Political blogging can be considered a form of activism. Pete is a known political blogger.

          Reply
    • Timoti

       /  29th January 2016

      Great comments, Jamie. Some important points I would like cleared up. In your analogous article, has Pete got a police record? Has he ever instigated, or been involved with people who have threatened violence? Has Pete ever been a member of a motorcycle gang doing a run through major urban centres?

      Reply
      • Rob

         /  29th January 2016

        Why don’t you get your private investigators onto it Timoti. You remember, the ones you told PG you were going to have investigate this site.

        Reply
      • jamie

         /  30th January 2016

        I don’t know if Pete has a record, Timoti, but that’s not really relevant to my analogy in which he isn’t being questioned about anything illegal.

        Reply
        • Alan Wilkinson

           /  30th January 2016

          Free speech is constitutionally protected and that police action would violate the Bill of Rights. Planning a physical demonstration invites a legitimate police response and duty to maintain public order and protect life and property. Chalk and cheese.

          Reply
  3. Blazer

     /  29th January 2016

    are those in favour of the TPPA also activists?

    Reply

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