I’ve already made my position about Occupy Melbourne – and the aims of the occupy movement in general – pretty clear.
But the right to political protest is, or should be, as absolute as possible. Protest is a subset of free expression. The right to set up a shanty town is not as sacrosanct. Occupy Melbourne was both protest and shanty town construction. The occupation of City Square effectively privatised a public space. Tent construction had an element of expression but that was not its only element.
Even so, a shanty town protest would be absolutely fine if it didn’t infringe the rights of others – such as the businesses operating on the outskirts of the square, and the consumers who use them. Or if it only did so temporarily. Relocating to Treasury Gardens would have balanced those rights. Occupy Melbourne could occupy the gardens for eternity without substantially infringing the rights of the 99% they claim to represent.
I don’t think the police should have expelled the occupiers on Friday. That was hasty. And seems inspired as much as anything else by Robert Doyle’s obvious hostility – an awful look in a democratic country. But the expulsion was going to happen eventually.
So did the police use excessive force? Probably. Maybe. If so, that’s despicable. But I’m not going to dig through the claims of who did what first. That would be futile. Police can be excessively violent – opponents of the protest need to acknowledge that – but so can the agitators who flit from protest to protest, for whom police overreaction is the goal.
Still, Doyle’s Herald Sun piece doesn’t inspire confidence. One of the pieces of evidence the lord mayor uses to suggest the protesters were up for a fight is that bricks were found at the site. And bottles. How threatening. Not quite a clear and present danger to Melbourne’s social contract.