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Pandemic policing in ‘multicultural’ Australia

19 12 0

I’ve always been a walker. It’s my way of de-stressing. Under lockdown, I assumed taking walks around my neighbourhood would be a therapeutic activity. But this has not been the case. Instead, my walks led me to question my ideals of community.

In my mostly white suburb of inner-city Melbourne, I regularly witnessed violations of lockdown rules – people visiting one another, not wearing masks, working out in groups in their garages. All these activities appeared to occur under a cloak of assurance – people seemed convinced that they should not and would not face any consequences for their actions.

As a long-term critic of policing, criminalisation and state powers, the pandemic has placed me in an uncomfortable position. Seeing these flagrant violations of basic restrictions put in place to prevent a virus from spreading has made me wonder how, without state intervention, we could preserve public health when members of the community show little regard for the safety of others?

Melbourne and Sydney, two of Australia’s biggest cities, have witnessed significant resistance to COVID-19 restrictions and vaccine mandates. There have been protests, and even riots.

This still growing resistance marks a convergence of racism, class struggles and conspiracy mindsets. These forces are not new to one another, but long-term acquaintances – something white Australia’s long history of racial paranoia attests to.

The state’s (mis)management of this pandemic, however, has led us down a dangerous new path. It has not only had corroding effects on community relations, but also made it increasingly difficult to comprehend the nature of the resistance to expanding state powers.

In Australia, both pandemic anxiety and policing have been expressed in racial terms.

In between each lockdown, there were frequent murmurs about how the new cases were mostly in “multicultural suburbs” – meaning the usual suspects, migrants, were the ones not adhering to regulations and expanding the pandemic’s lifespan.

In April-May 2020, Australia’s Muslim community spent the month of Ramadan, the most holy and social in the Islamic calendar, confined in their homes, as mosques were closed and large social gatherings were banned. But a rise in infection numbers in June, and the news that a small cluster of Muslim households had been affected by the new outbreak, resulted in the community being scapegoated and targeted.

Shortly after, on July 4, nine public housing towers in North Melbourne and Flemington were put under immediate lockdown. Residents of these towers, mostly of migrant and refugee backgrounds, were left without food, medicine and access to fresh air for days. The lockdown was lifted at eight of the nine towers after five days, but residents of the........

© Al Jazeera

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