Just Keep Searching!

Once in Adelaide, Australia, I tried to protest inside a protected area.

During Hillary Clinton’s visit to Adelaide this year, the area around her hotel was declared a protected area- essentially a zone within which police are temporarily granted a slew of extended powers. From what I was told by police, the area encompassed much of North Terrace. If you’re unfamiliar with Adelaide, it’s a fairly sizable chunk of the CBD.

When I first arrived, only one other activist was there. Both of us were loaded up with banners, placards, flags, flyers and the like. In other words, we didn’t exactly blend in. However, before we got anywhere near the hotel where Hillary was bunked up, we were intercepted by police.

In order to spare us “humiliation”, the officers decided to take us off the crowded street and into the nearby Adelaide Railway Station- also crowded. Our bags, shoes, hats and scarves were all removed and searched. The four officers unpacked everything, taking notes as they went. We were frisked. One went through my diary; he would skim read a few pages, then flick through weeks of my life he obviously found uninteresting, before skimming a few more entries. There were a few loose papers in my diary as well; print outs from uni, a few flyers and some personal documents. All these appeared to be read as well. Then he demanded to see my camera. I asked why it was necessary. One of the other officers that had been hanging back was suddenly in my face. Apparently, if I didn’t submit to all my photographs being checked, I would be arrested. And so, the officer began a long, tedious haul through all my random photos of clouds, run down buildings and other amazingly fascinating subjects. The officer occasionally found something of interest, and would ask me more questions about random aspects of my life. It could almost have been small talk; the only difference being that each time I refused to answer a question (almost all of which seemed to have nothing to do with their search for “dangerous items”), I was threatened with arrest.

As all this took place, two officers stood back, noting everything. One repeatedly asked me for different forms of identification. In the end, I had to hand over three different types of ID. I repeatedly asked for some kind of ID from them, as is lawful. I handed my notepad to one officer, who seemed fairly happy to put down his badge number. He passed the pad on to the next, who promptly threw it as my feet. “I don’t think so,” he said, shaking his head. I pressed the issue, and again the pad was thrown at my feet. On the third request, all the officers grudgingly complied.

A few people stopped to watch. Most looked quite shocked. I distinctly heard one man simply say, “disgusting”.

In the end, they had my car make, model and registration number, its location (for a few minutes they seemed reluctant to accept that it was at home…moreover, it seemed inconceivable to them that I often use public transport), my address, phone number, occupation, notes from my diary and camera and an explanation for why we were on the street. At every turn I initially refused to provide anything (beyond my name and address, of course), but I was repeatedly threatened with arrest or detention. They also asked for my political affiliations, and the names and details of all of my “co-collaborators”. On these two issues, I simply refused to answer. They pressed me, repeatedly asking for answers to these two questions during the search. Each time I refused to answer, I was told they were going to arrest me. Of course, they didn’t.

After just over half an hour, we were cut loose. They gave us very specific directions. We were to cross the road, leave the protected area and re-enter a few hundred metres away. The whole thing seemed ridiculous, but we did exactly as we were told. Once I re-entered the area, however, another officer made a beeline to me. I tried to explain that I’d already been searched, but it was useless. The whole process started all over again.

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