Twirling towards freedom

Mardi Gras

It makes a difference when something’s caught on tape. It’s a lesson that NSW police are reacquainting themselves with after 18-year-old Jamie Jackson was thrown to the ground by a police officer during Saturday night’s Mardi Gras festivities. The incident was caught on camera by a young man who was repeatedly told to stop filming by police, and who repeatedly reminded them that he was within every right to do so.

The footage doesn’t make for easy watching. A young woman tearfully tells a police officer that her friend’s blood is on the ground because of him, the camera dutifully pans to the stained pavement, and the already handcuffed Jamie Jackson is once more slung to the ground where he remains cowering and crying. The footage doesn’t show what happened before the alleged police brutality, but later in the week Jackson mumbled on A Current Affair that he was “being a bit silly, I guess,” and “mucking around with the people in costumes.” He apparently tickled a girl on the back and walked away, and was then approached by police and accused of assault. Another video has emerged showing Jackson taking a swing at an officer trying to subdue him. 

The true version of what transpired before the footage started to roll will likely be forever obscured by contradictory testimony. The question will remain: What could an unarmed, shirtless 18-year-old possibly have done to warrant having his head slammed onto the pavement?

For decades now, police brutality has been rendered vivid by technology, but it’s a fact that police seem unable to remember. It was over twenty years ago that Rodney King’s vicious beating by Los Angeles police was famously caught on camera and police brutality shifted from the stuff of whispers and murmurs to undisputed fact.

By now, even our pets know not to misbehave when their owner is watching.

Based on his A Current Affairs spot, the shy, inarticulate Jackson is unlikely to hold up well in a witness box. Tracy Grimshaw spoon-fed him the answers that she wanted which, of course, a defence barrister would never do. However, the ubiquity of mobile phone cameras now means that the traditional “he said, we said” argument no longer holds much weight in courtrooms when examined alongside footage such as that captured on Oxford Street. The classic defence of “I was just doing my job,” isn’t as effective when everyone can see precisely how that job gets done.

New South Wales Police Minister Mike Gallacher has said that the incident is being investigated by the Police Professional Standards Command, and that he is working “to determine if a culture of overreaction and unnecessary force was behind the incidents and, if so, to develop a plan to ensure policing practices better reflect the level of risk.” Inquiring whether this culture of unnecessary force is responsible for Saturday’s incident is all well and good. Here’s hoping the reasons for trying to avoid gratuitous violence run deeper than the fear of ending up on YouTube again.

Michaela McGuire

Michaela McGuire is a journalist and the author of Last Bets: A True Story of Gambling, Morality and the Law and the Penguin Special A Story of Grief. Visit her blog, Twirling Towards Freedom.

@michaelamcguire

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