The New South Wales Police Force has apologised for its brutal response to the original Mardi Gras protest in 1978, just one day before Sydney’s world-famous pride parade takes over Oxford street for its 38th year.
On 24 June 1978 New South Wales police violently dispersed a peaceful protest of around 2,000 people who had marched to Kings Cross to demand the decriminalisation of homosexual acts and equality for the queer community.
“The police came in swinging,” original protestor Ray Goodlass told New Matilda. “What was a march turned into a melee; a sort of a violent chaos with batons swinging and boots stomping.”
As recently as last week NSW Police had declined to apologise for the incident, telling New Matilda it was a matter for the whole of government.
But this morning Superintendent Tony Crandell, a spokesperson on Sexuality and Gender Diversity, said New South Wales Police “acknowledge the pain and hurt caused by police actions back then”.
Crandell’s contrition trails the delivery of formal apologies last week by the New South Wales Parliament and Fairfax media, which published the names, occupations and addresses of the protestors who were arrested.
“I can tell you that I spoke with our Commissioner this morning – and I have his full support in saying that the NSW Police Force is sorry for the way that first Mardi Gras was policed back in 1978,” Superintendent Crandell said.
“We do understand that the apology issued by the Parliament was on behalf of all NSW government agencies but we felt it important that the NSW Police perspective is well understood,” he said.
“I work very closely with the LGBTI community and I understand the depth of feeling about the role of police back in 1978.”
A statement from Supt Tony Crandell, spokesperson for Sexuality & Gender Diversity on behalf of the NSWPF. pic.twitter.com/INSeZDtlq7
— NSW Police (@nswpolice) March 3, 2016
Shane Brown, one of 53 people arrested, recalls how he was treated after police stormed the crowd: “The police had me by my hair and the protestors had me by my feet. I was laid out across a rubbish bin, and they did eventually get me into the paddy wagon,” he said.
One man in particular, Peter Murphy, was brutalised by the New South Wales Police Force. “They took me quite deep into the police station and started just screaming and bashing me,” he said. “It was very violent and very difficult. I was a real wreck at the end of that; they had to drag me to a cell by myself and I had to try to clean myself up…”
He said he was denied medical help.
Last week, Shane Brown told New Matilda that “to have the police apologise would make me feel that there’s an understanding that they had done the wrong thing, and it would certainly make me feel a lot better”.
He said that for many of the gay men who marched in 1978, the trauma of a time when the queer community was faced with pervasive and often violent prejudice lingers on: “The not feeling good about yourself, not feeling confident, feeling dirty, that you’re an outcast.”
Today’s apology will go some way to salving those wounds.
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