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Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Night that Hone was Arrested





  Friday just past midnight, 12 October, 2012, and for Auckland, the most you can say about the weather is, there's no wind, thank God. You park in an industrial area on the fringe. You have no idea really where you are, though eventually, these places will become familiar. There is nothing to see at first, just a big white blob high off the ground in the distance. You squint, then you recognise it; another bloody house is being 'jacked in GI.

It's a bit of a walk to the main event. It's like going to the circus really, minus the crowds. It all happens in a big open field, and there, in the middle of all that prairie grass, somebody has put up a big attraction. As soon as you see it, even from far away, you feel a twinge of fear and excitement. You wouldn't miss this for the world.

You walk a little faster, but there's no hurry. There are cops on the corner, and they aren't there to take your ticket. Red and blue lights create a festive atmosphere. You walk past the cops as if you are trying to casually sneak in. They see you of course. It's obvious where you are headed. You and the person you are with are well-known activists, so you expect to be stopped as you pass the first officer. But he doesn't stop you, and you are quietly amazed.

You make it around the corner of the big fence, and there, before you, are more cops, more fence, some lights, and a massive truck in an open, rutted field. You're here.

Not only are you here, but your friends are here too. It seems like all of them are here, everyone you know. But really there are only about 40 or 50 people milling around, doing stuff. You look where they look. And where they look, you see three people perched on the roof of the big white house.

All young women, they're hard to miss. You recognise them; Kirsty, Myla and Ella. They're chanting. Some man, possibly one of the Contractors, possibly a Search and Rescue guy is talking to the girls. The women aren't listening, why is he talking, this guy, doesn't he know they're chanting? You take it all in for a good few minutes, giving yourself the chance to mingle and enjoy the sense of pride and amazement that comes over you. This is a good protest.

Then it really sinks in; you're cold. Very cold. Which means that on the roof, it must be unbelievably cold. So now, not only are these women brave for even being up on the roof (“you couldn't get me up there!”) but they're also hardcore.

Now you look around, and its time to find out from everyone what has been going on. Details are sketchy, but apparently the first attempt at stopping the house move failed. This is the staging area, and now the thing is under siege. The womenfound it, and got up on the roof. Two other activists had earlier been caught in the ceiling, but were gotten out. Getting the women off the roof is harder. It's going to involve removing a section of the roof tiles.  The Contractors look really, really pissed off.

You came to film, so that's what you do. You get several quick interviews, then you inspect the surrounds. During one of your interviews, the cops decide to turn the lights on the crowd, so that filming becomes difficult. It's an annoyance, but it doesn't stop you getting some great sound bites. The cops keep trying to either blind you or block you as you video. It strikes you as kind of childish.

During one such interview, there is a sudden commotion. A car has driven up. People are moving toward it. You are naturally attracted to this. You come away from your interview, and you walk up to the car. A quick peek, and it looks like Hone Harawira, the Mana Movement Leader. You didn't expect to see Hone, especially not at that late hour. It's hard to see, you could be wrong. You confirm with John Minto, who is standing next to you, “Yes, that's Hone.” You nod and start videoing.

But it's getting crowded, and you can't get a clear shot from the passenger side. That's when you notice the cops are speaking to him. Firmly. Hone appears grim, determined. A sudden burst of shouting, and there's a loud shattering of glass. Hone is being arrested. It's friggin' serious now.

You run around to the driver's side of the car. There's a posse gathering there now. They're very angry. You've got no chance of getting close to Hone at this point, there's just a wall of yellow vests. But you know how this is going to play out. Directly behind you is the police van. You know that if you draw a straight line, from the car to the van, 20 meters, Hone and the cops are going to be walking along that line. So you move two meters to the side, on the correct angle, and you wait for a few seconds. Sure enough, as Hone is dragged from the car, he's secured, and they turn around. There you are.

The wall of yellow vests is trying to move Hone through the crowd. The crowd is against this, “Let Hone go!” The cops move toward you. You start moving backwards, then literally trotting, every now and again glancing behind you so you don't trip. The idea is to stay in front of the arresting officers and film everything they do to Hone.

More cops move in to run interference. Big cops. People are swirling around in the dark like angry bees, but the shouting, the shouting is deafening, like banshees. The penalty for failing to stay out of the way is to get thrown, bodily, with huge force, off to the side. Bodies immediately start flying around. The screaming breaks out even louder. Suddenly, someone is thrown very hard, right in front of you, with shocking force. You can't help it, you cry out, “What the fuck!” A space opens up. Nobody tries it again.

Still coming, a cop on each arm, finally, you see Hone's face. It looks serene, like he's visiting the people on any ordinary day, except he's under arrest. Above the shouting and wailing of the crowd, one woman says over and over, with an immense voice, “Leave Harawira alone! He's the Representative of the People! Leave Harawira alone!” But Hone looks to her and calms her, calling her “Miss”. Incredibly self-possessed, even though he is in custody, walking between two huge police officers, he thinks only of making sure the crowd does not get out of control or try to break him out. The cops are very tense. People are regularly “de-arrested”, snatched from the police by skilled and determined activists. But not tonight. Though the scene is bedlam, Hone's calmness gradually brings a small degree of order.

Four meters from the van, Hone and the officers stop. He is asked his name. The arrest procedure begins. Now more police completely surround Hone. An officer blocks you, “Ma'am... ma'am... please step back.” He is much bigger than you. There is no getting around him. That's the end of filming Hone's arrest.

But there are others arrested in the same episode. A small, older woman is swearing a blue streak and putting up a real struggle. Of course she can't hurt the officers, nor does she actually try to. But they are cruel. They push her hard against the van. They twist her arm. You know this woman. You know that if they push any harder on her arm, it will break. You speak firmly to the officers, in a commanding tone, “Do not break her arm.” They relent. But instead of calming down, the small woman starts up again.

Another activist friend has been arrested, and you turn to help him. Not so feisty, this man knows the score. He's very experienced. You ask him a question as he sits on the step at the back of the big paddy wagon, to make sure he's not hurt, especially, that he has not been concussed. There's some blood. You pretend not to notice it. “Omar, are you ok? Do you want to say anything quickly?” If he's been assaulted by police, the best time to find out about it is now, before he's taken out of sight. You want to know what an arrestee's condition is before they go into the van, for a number of reasons. No, he's ok. He shakes his head, and that's a good sign. Then, to the officers he says, “Can I give my keys to this woman?” Some fumbling, and the keys are handed to you. They're for the van he drove here. After this, he's readied to go into the truck. An officer speaks to him, softly. You can barely hear him, something like, “Are we going to have any trouble?” Omar goes into the back. The door is closed.

With most of the early arrests processed, almost on queue the women are brought down from the roof, one at a time. They come down as if they are being rescued off a mountain or a cliff face. But most people being rescued do not smile or laugh. The crowd cheers. The house has a massive hole in its roof. The stand-off on the roof is over.

The veterans of GI now know what this means. You've been to GI many times yourself. But never in this field. Never in precisely this situation. So you mill around, while others move purposefully. A line is formed. You are one of the last to join it. The line crosses the gate in the fence. The fence, such as it is, is closed. It's flimsy. It wouldn't hold up in a stiff breeze. It's no real deterrent. Those who are responding to a Higher Law of course dismiss the fence. It's kicked and shoved til it's closed by a pair of activists. Less than five minutes later it's opened again, with a scowl, this time by the Contractors.

Show time.

The cops form a line, parallel to your own. Yours is longer than theirs. But then someone says, coldly, “They've put on their gloves.” At which point you realise you definitely don't have enough people for a beating like what you can expect shortly.

The scrum” you call it, but it's not really a football scrum, it's two lines pushing against each other. It's a ritual of sorts. You've done it many times in other actions at GI. Because you are filming however, you can't lock arms this time. You instead try to film and push at the same time. You have to stay free, and out of the line, so that if something odd or important happens, you can get to it, without breaking the line.

The early tussle begins, and the long line holds for a while. The danger at this point is very real; a slip, a fall, a cracked skull, or worse. This is the way it has to be, this is the ritual. But a thought crosses your mind, “what if we did it differently? There are actually more of us than there are of them. What if we scattered, then regrouped? What if someone got back into the house?”

It's an intriguing thought, but it's not to be. Eventually, that house is going to be moved. If not today, then tomorrow. We all have to go home. The line is pushed back, then a corner is turned. The cops push harder, we retreat further, now on the main road, the truck picks up speed. Our good order is lost. Some are left behind. Some fall. Some are pushed. Some are nabbed. The truck keeps coming.

You push your luck as hard as you can. You think, let's see if the truck driver can stop in time. You run toward the truck, even as the driver changes gears and accelerates. You are right in the way. You're very angry now. There's a part of you that doesn't care, you are daring the truck to run you over. It's getting very close.

Suddenly, a cop grabs you and flings you away. He's much bigger than you, and you are shocked at how strong he is. You cannot help but let out a scream. Being spun around sends your phone flying into the road, and you imagine, there it goes, smashed, and all your footage gone.  You used to think police were Workers like you. But they aren't. Or if they are, they're an alien species of worker, one you never signed up to save. You've seen too much blood, you've seen too many of them throw evil punches, punches that could kill, but don't quite. They hurt activists, and many of them hate activists. They can't be trusted, and you know it, and it makes you sad, because anger is natural, but hate is bad. Hate will hurt you more than them and you have to purge that.

So you get back into the Zone, and you and the cop go your separate ways, back into the fight. You pick your phone up off the road, and when you stand up, you look around. There's bodies scattered all over the place. People moaning, and up ahead, Cate, holding her head in her hands. James is helping her. A cop with a big-ass video camera is kneeling down, offering to help, but he's wearing an odd shit-eating grin for some reason, or so it seems to you. Someone gives him a verbal blast, a stunning stream of cursing, and he's sent packing, back to his own kind. You missed what came before... how did she get there? What happened? Later, you learn she was thrown down, by a cop. Maybe the same cop with the shit-eating grin, who knows.

Suddenly, it's quiet. The truck is gone. The cops form up into a column and march out, hut hut hut. Everyone picks themselves up. Now it's the aftermath... “Have you seen a black shoe? I'm missing a black shoe.” “Who has Malcolm's camera? Have you seen a camera laying on the ground?” “Where have they taken our people?”

Is it really 2 AM? You didn't plan to be out this late. But you're so full of adrenaline you know you won't be able to sleep anyway, so of course you volunteer to go to the cop shop with the comrades who got arrested. Solidarity.

You won't sleep properly for days, but you don't care. You genuinely care that those houses do not make it out of the yard. Defeats are hard to take, but they make the triumphs that much more precious. The fight in GI is one battle in a larger struggle that's sweeping the whole country. As such, GI matters. It matters more than your day job. It matters more than sleep.

You have learned this lesson well, and you repeat it often; you cannot fight for a group of people for very long before falling in love with them. Those beautiful Maori aunties... someone's mother, someone's sister, many kaumatua, many more mokopuna, but never enough, never enough. You love them. Their faces swim before your eyes at night, pressed into your consciousness in a way that only happens in times of extreme exhilaration. This is reality, and nothing, absolutely nothing compares with it.

Wide awake, you drive across town. At 3AM, at the cop station, you sit on the stainless steel bench, staring at the tiles, listening to stories from older activists, of how Bastion Point supporters used to spend their time here. Nothing has changed they say, the tiles are the same, except the paint looks fresh. Rightly or wrongly, you conclude that inside Cop Land, everything must always stay the same. As an Agent of Change, you consider this to be significant. After all, “change” is the whole point of the struggle. So you have to ask, please tell me, outside, in the real world, has anything changed since you fought at Bastion Point? Yes, and no. Yes, and no.

Your comrades come out one by one. They sit on the floor, on the tiles, those same tiles their parents no doubt sat on during the Bastion Point Occupation. This is one more price of freedom; hours spent waiting in police stations. Some angel has brought a big cache of snacks and food and hot flasks of tea. You are grateful.

Everyone is mildly drunk with exhilaration, just as you are, on a high. Cuts and bruises are compared. Charge sheets are handed around. Gaol-house lawyer-talk is exchanged. Past exploits are projected onto present circumstances, with many “oohs” and “ahhs” and respectful nods that send activist cred skyward. At last, when everyone is accounted for, and all charges have been read, the secret, malevolent intentions of the authorities are able to be assayed; all agree, things are definitely escalating, but tonight has given us a re-charge. We will be in court soon, even those not arrested, but that doesn't matter.

It doesn't matter, because we are together, as comrades, and we accept this is the risk we take. We fight together. We are non-violent combatants. And because of this hard action tonight, an unbreakable bond has been formed between us, between all of us who were there, sitting on those tiles, the night that Hone was arrested.

Linda Miller, Socialist Aotearoa

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