Melbourne man arrested at Midsumma defends right to protest

A Melbourne man who was arrested and detained by police at Melbourne’s Midsumma Parade on the weekend has described the actions of the organisation’s security personnel as ‘over the top’, saying they used abusive language and blocked his right to protest.

Following the event on Sunday longstanding LGBTI rights activist Tony Pitman posted a statement to Facebook outlining that he’d been arrested by Victorian police after the shouted at the Liberal party’s contingent in the annual Pride parade.

“I was arrested today by police and driven off in a divvy van simply for booing and shouting “You’re not welcome” at the Liberal contingent during the Midsumma Pride March.

“After booing and shouting this a few times, one the Midsumma security personnel pulled me aside and told me he was going to ‘smash my head in’. They were his exact words.

“Then several police officers grabbed me and dragged me away from the march.”

After being held beside St Kilda’s police station, which is a short distance from the march, Pitman said he was transported to South Melbourne police station in the back of a police van.

He described the conditions in the back of the van has ‘extremely unpleasant and claustrophobic” noting that the hot summer’s day had intense heat.

Victorian Police spokesperson confirmed to OUTinPerth that police had made an arrest after a man ignored police’s initial instructions to leave the area.

“Police observed a man displaying threatening behaviour towards participants and spectators at the Midsumma Pride March about 2.55pm on Sunday”.

“Police ordered the 49-year-old man to move on, warning him that his behaviour was in breach of the peace.

“When he failed to do so he was arrested and subsequently transported away from the march area and released outside the nearest police station.

“Victoria Police respects people’s right to protest peacefully, but will not tolerate those who break the law.” a police spokesperson said.

OUTinPerth asked if Victorian Police had a specific policy regarding the monitoring of heat in the back of vans during particularly hot days.

The spokesperson for Victoria Police said they did not have a specific heat policy relating to the transportation of prisoners in divisional vans but the vans are equipped with interior cameras and heat sensors which enable members to appropriately monitor and manage the welfare of suspects.

“Police members adopt a common sense approach when transporting all persons in custody. In this case, a risk assessment was conducted and the mode of transport was deemed appropriate due to the close proximity of the police station.” the spokesperson said.

Midsumma Festival said they were shocked and saddened to hear about “the experiences reported by one protester” at the Pride March.

“Midsumma actively supports and acknowledges the right for anyone to undertake peaceful protests.” the organisation said in a statement to the media. ” We ensure our values are clearly communicated thorough briefing sessions with security staff and police representatives prior to all of our events.”

The organisation said the reports of the conduct of security staff and police had come as a surprise, and they immediately began investigating the concerns.

“Police and security have reported back to us that their representatives on site were concerned that the behaviour of one patron protesting at the march escalating beyond peaceful and was impacting on both marchers and pedestrians. Security management were particularly surprised about the report of the verbal conduct of security staff which would be out of character with their training and briefing.”

The security company contracted by Midsumma have denied the suggestion that one of their staff would have spoken inappropriately.

Speaking to OUTinPerth Tony Pitman said he had voiced his opposition to the Liberal party’s Pride contingent because he saw their presence as being offensive in light of Victorian Opposition leader Mathew Guy’s recent announcement that he’d scrap the LGBTI anti-bullying program Safe Schools program if he won the next state election.

“I just saw the Liberal contingent and started booing and saying ‘You’re not welcome here'” Pitman told OUTinPerth.

“Just two days before they’d announced that if they get into government this year they’d be abolishing Safe Schools, also the fact that they seem to be taking credit for marriage equality when its been the Liberal party that have delayed marriage equality for years.”

Pitman said he also was of the view that the party had been delaying progress LGBTI rights in Victoria for years.

“I just thought it was very hypocritical of them to be marching in Pride and waving their banners and smiling when they have been probably the greatest opponent of LGBTI rights in the last twenty, thirty years.”

Pitman denined his actions had been threatening, saying all he had done was boo and yell at the Liberal contingent. He said he hoped Midsumma and their staff in future would have more accepting that people may find some parts of the parade unacceptable.

“They just need to have policies and training for their staff to deal with people who are simply expressing the political point of view from the sidelines.” Pitman said.

Graeme Watson

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