This week, Australia has been seized by footage of police brutality, harrowing on the eyes and heart.
On Wednesday, two more videos were released to the public. One, from February 2016, depicts a 23-year-old African-Australian man terrorising a Preston chemist. It’s believed he was suffering from a psychotic episode. With seven right hooks, two left hooks, a full-blooded kick to the head, blows with a baton and a stomp on the back, Victoria Police arrested him with incomprehensible force.
The other, from March 2015, depicts a 23-year-old Indigenous man – arrested for being drunk in Bendigo – violently swung into a steel cell door. He is knocked unconscious by the blow, blood flowing from his head.
On The Project on Wednesday night, Victoria Police Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius appeared to speak on behalf of his work force.
“It’s important that we keep this in context,” he told the panel, going on to cite statistics thrown around all day by Victoria Police in the wake of the saga.
“We have an organisation comprised of about 19,000 employees. We generate about 14,000 contacts with members of the community each day. That results in about seven complaints a day in relation to police interactions with members of the community,” he went on.
It was here Waleed Aly came in to say what so many of us are feeling about the footage.
“Do you really think it’s appropriate to be citing complaints statistics here?” Aly began.
“The whole point is that, in these cases, as far as we have been able to figure out, they weren’t even investigated.
“There are people who have said they didn’t complain because they don’t want to be traumatised again by the whole investigation and we’re only hearing about this stuff now because the media is telling us, not because you’ve been up-front with us about this?”
On Wednesday morning, Police Minister Lisa Neville was churning out the same statistic on 3AW.
“Victoria Police have 14,000 interactions with Victorians every single day. Of that, there are seven complaints. Let’s keep this in proportion.”
Because while seven complaints is a novel statistic, numbers and stats don’t paint a picture of blunt force. Numbers and stats don’t paint a picture of brutality and of inhumanity. And, as Waleed Aly said, numbers and stats don’t take into account all those who were never investigated in the first place.
Assistant Commissioner Luke Cornelius accepted Aly’s contention, but perhaps this quote says more than I need to:
“We have certainly been concerned about the reaction of the community to the footage that has been conveyed to the community. IBAC, our independent oversight body, has also assumed responsibility for a number of those matters and I’m here to say that myself and all of my colleagues that I have spoken to have been very concerned about what’s depicted in that CCTV footage.”
Note the concern about the community’s reaction, first and foremost.