22.2.09

Jaywalking: the day I asserted my rights as a car

Written on Friday April 11th. 2003

We had decided to have some fun that night. For long all our efforts had focused on opposing the war on Iraq. We had not succeeded of course and Australia was part of this war. We were saddened by the news, the civilian deaths, the misery, and the destruction of Iraqi cities. Appalled by the violence of the so called, “Coalition of the willing”.

This night we were going to have a break, "let’s go dancing, Brazilian music for a change!" We dressed up a bit and drove to Smith Street. As we approached the corners of Gertrude and Smith Streets, we saw a “take over the streets” demonstration with some anti-US slogans. A few young, mainly hippie looking demonstrators had managed to stop the traffic along Smith St. It was too good to go pass by without showing solidarity with the initiative. We stopped, I said hello to a few demonstrators, they looked at me with a bit of distrust. In the crowd I recognised my Melbourne University classmate Andy. I was thrilled to see him there. Not because we had ever talked about anything, or even talked for that matter, but because at this stage I thought that there were no committed students at Melbourne University who would be prepared to act on their convictions. I was so happy in fact that I gave him a huge hug—he must have been surprised, but he warmly returned my greeting.
Andy said to us, “it is nice to have respectable looking people among us”. And, with my “respectable look”, I managed for a while to keep the police a breath from me. However, after a good 20 minutes of us crossing the road very slowly, taking enough time for the lights to change colour—while still occupying the road when the cars had the green light—the police grew weary and came directly towards me.

I was standing with my newly founded friend and Anthony on the road, about 2 meters away from the gutter. The police (2 of them) demanded that I move to the footpath. I did not move. They asked me for my name and address. I did not give it to them. They accused me of challenging the law. I did not say a word.

Should I, by law, give my name and address? Should I, by law, obey their orders and move to the footpath? I really did not know. I looked at Anthony and Andy for some clues, something that would indicate that I could 'legally' keep my stance—their faces were blank.

I was scared, puzzled and felt totally ignorant of my rights. I tried to talk the policemen to let me go, but there was no chance that they would move away and leave me in peace to continue demonstrating. “We will have to take you to the police station” said one of the policemen. The charges were: “suspicion of Jaywalking and contempt for the law”. I did not know what “Jaywalking” was either. Based on their words, I had not even qualified for 'Jaywalking', only for suspicion of!

I could picture myself inside the Collingwood Police Station – not a nice prospect for a night that was supposed to be fun. However, to my mind, this was nothing when compared to the reasons why we were demonstrating. Many thoughts crossed my mind, I could have given my name and address to the police, but I did not know what the implications were. As I tried to negotiate with them a lost cause, and perhaps just to earn some more time of freedom, I looked around. I took two steps back and I was inside the white lines that define a car space on the side of the road. I asked the police, “if a car can park here for (I looked up to the parking sign)—2 hours—don’t I have at least the same right than a car to be here?” Now, the police looked puzzled. They exchanged glances and after a few eternal seconds one of them, with a sneered smile and very coarse voice, said to me “smart ass!” and in a kind of condescending manner they walked away.

I was relieved. I could not believe that, at least momentarily, I had attained as much right as a car to be on the road.

The two police went directly to another group of demonstrators occupying the road, one police asked them to move to the footpath and the group obeyed immediately. The policemen looked at us, we all laughed. “This is group solidarity guys!” shouted one of the policemen back to us.

Notes:

Photograph(s) belong to a more recent march.


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