Two Wrongs Make A Riot
21/08/2006 12:44 PM
As promised - News Reporter John Hartevelt presents his eyewitness view of what happened in Castle St on Saturday night:
North Dunedin’s Castle Street is not a place many people would rush to on any given Saturday night. As long as the students are about, there are always bottles being smashed and couches being burned. Otago University faces an endemic problem with misbehaviour in this area, and last ast Saturday was the same, only worse. There were more students (including a large number from the University of Canterbury, down for the ‘Undie 500’), there was more broken glass, more mindless destruction and, crucially, there were a lot more police. This was a most unfortunate spectacle, accurately described by one Dunedin officer as farcical.
I was only on Castle Street because I had heard that there was some shit going down with police in riot gear. Ever the inquisitive student journalist – and the good old Kiwi ‘rubber-necker’ – I moseyed down for a look. I had been drinking, but I was not drunk. I, like the Otago Daily Times’ Debbie Porteous, was very nearly hit by a number of glass bottles being thrown by intoxicated students. I felt uncomfortable and hoped that the police might apprehend whoever was threatening my safety. Unlike Ms Porteous and her photographer Craig Baxter, however, I did not enjoy the benefit of the police’s discretion. Nobody that resembled a student – be they sober, stoned, blind drunk or even protesting their right to observe as a journalist alongside their more senior colleagues – was given any quarter by an overzealous squadron of riot police. Standing motionless, inoffensive with hands by my sides I was violently and provocatively shoved onward by an indiscriminate officer. Officers were entering flats and ordering (often uninvolved) students out of their homes. My friend says he was bashed in the back by one of the officers for “moving too slowly”. Getting the message, I carried on walking about twenty metres in advance of the emerging line of blue.
For some reason the line of police decided to stop at the end of Castle Street, right outside the historic Selwyn College. Thus was created an unruly and thoroughly pissed off throng of young (mainly, I would imagine 18-20 year olds) males, keen to vent their misguided masculinity and somewhat justified anger at the Police’s heavy-handedness. The central “mob” of chanting students numbered probably only around forty or fifty. A large number of others, perhaps several hundred, stood around a thickly numbered fringe, agog at the spectacle, wondering what either side might do next. I looked on in dismay at a series of haka, ‘moonings’, and bizarre chants, including “Fuck the Po-Leese”. The line of police had the odd bottle thrown firmly in their direction – I recall seeing perhaps five or six glass missiles being foolishly launched. On more than one occasion the police chased and apprehended the culprit, and I was hopeful that the stand-off would peter out after examples had been made of these idiots. But suddenly, without any warning, the police line charged in unison, shouting “MOVE!!!!” I turned and sprinted, noticing one young girl being knocked clean off her feet by the riot police. Her screams were perhaps a little melodramatic, but she had every right to be frightened. I certainly was. The battle-lines had been shifted. I was again hopeful that the students’ provocative chanting and bottle-throwing would end, as the missile launchers seemed momentarily to have lost their nerve. But the police were taking no chances. In one last decisive charge, they succeeded not only in bowling over a few more students but also in dispersing the “mob”, and I wandered off into town.
I caught up with the Otago University Students’ Association President Paul Chong later in the night. We pondered both sides of what had gone on. A considerable number of students had yet again shown reckless disregard for property and for the safety of themselves and others. If they had intended to ratchet up the rapidly shortening tempers of police and fire services, they had succeeded. Yet if the police had intended to alienate themselves from a fundamentally sceptical student population, then they too could have done no better than they did on Saturday night. Had there been no police in riot uniform armed with an absurdly aggressive mentality, there would have been considerably less carnage. Unruly students created the potential for a stand-off and the police took the bait. My sympathy with the police ended when they charged at us without warning. Isolating the idiots would have been the better course of action, but the police – perhaps understandably – lost their patience. The bottle throwers ought to be meaningfully punished. The by-standers, however, did not deserve to be treated with such utter contempt.