Reflections On Getting Arrested

#LoveMakesAWay

Protest

For many years I have half joked about the fact that on my bucket list was this; that I would be arrested for doing something righteous, Christ-like, aka – not drunk and disorderly conduct!

I guess in some ways that motivation makes this ‘all about me’. Other than the fact that my desire was for it to be for something Christ-like, aka – ‘all about others’ 🙂  Following?

We could stop and have a long discussion about what percentage of my motivation was ‘ego’ (all about me) and what percentage of my motivation was ‘all about others’, but I am thinking that this is hard to measure, and is not my purpose here, I will make some related comments later, but first – some history.

I have been disturbed for some years on Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers and refugees. Even more so with Abbott’s “Stop The Boats” and “No Way” campaigns. But in 2004 the challenge to the Government from the Human Rights Commissioner was to release children from detention, see this amazing challenge from them here. And what has disturbed me is that, today, there are more kids in detention (1138 kids in detention) than in 2004.

This issue of kids in detention seems a bigger issue than the more general and much ‘hotter’ topic of stopping boats, detaining asylum seekers or off shore processing. It seems a no-brainer that kids don’t belong in detention, the results are horrific; (from the 2004 report)

There is a 14 year old boy still in detention in the Port Augusta residential housing project. Between April 2002 and July 2002, the boy (then detained at Woomera) attempted to hang himself four times, climbed into the razor wire four times, slashed his arms twice and went on hunger strike twice. This boy’s mother was hospitalised due to her own mental illness during this whole period.

Then there is the case of a 13 year old child who has been seriously mentally ill since May 2002. This boy has regularly self-harmed. In February 2003 a psychiatrist examining the boy wrote: ‘When I asked if there was anything I could do to help him, he told me that I could bring a razor or knife so that he could cut himself more effectively than with the plastic knives that are available.‘ Mental health professionals have made more than 20 recommendations that this child be released from detention with his family. But he is still there. 

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Sev Ozdowski, OAM. Published in the Courier Mail and the Newcastle Herald, 10 June 2004

When I saw that some Christians had approached the Minister for Immigration’s office in March of this year (2014) demanding an answer as to when kids would be released and were arrested for their actions, I was excited. Not only was someone screaming loudly about this issue but it was a group of fellow believers including a mate of mine, Jarrod McKenna.

When the opportunity came to be involved in a similar event here in Perth at the Subiaco office of Julie Bishop (Deputy PM and Minister for Foreign Affairs), I didn’t have to pray and contemplate for very long at all.

2 training sessions took place prior to the event and articles were shared with regards to the philosophy and theology behind such an action as was being planned. The historical basis for this type of thing goes back a-way…We could go back to Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego from the book of Daniel in the Hebrew scriptures who refused to obey the laws of the land as they served a higher law – God’s law, they were willing to suffer whatever consequences. We could jump forward to Jesus whose life was one political protest after another, whose teachings were subversive and his final punishment a result of his refusal to obey the laws and shut up about his insistence that he was God. Jesus resisted in a non-violent manner, he refused verbal or physical abuse or acts of violence towards his fellow humans…although if you were a table in the temple in those days you were in trouble 🙂

ArrestHistory has been filled with people who have followed in like manner, look at Gandhi and look at Martin Luther King Jnr.

In fact it was King’s model that was referred to in much of the training in the lead up to this event. We were encouraged to read the letter King posted to christian leaders who were critical of his actions in being repeatedly arrested for his stance against segregation.

He encourages 4 steps, all of which have been followed in our recent case;

1.  Collection of the facts, is this really happening?

2. Negotiation. This has been happening for a decade with no response as to when kids will be released.

3. Purification, times of prayer and preparation for those committing to the action, particularly around committing to non-violence and peace.

4. Direct Action. This took place last Monday in Julie Bishops office

In his letter Kings writes;

“You may well ask: “Why direct action? Why sit-ins, marches and so forth? Isn’t negotiation a better path?” You are quite right in calling for negotiation. Indeed, this is the very purpose of direct action. Nonviolent direct action seeks to create such a crisis and foster such a tension that a community which has constantly refused to negotiate is forced to confront the issue. It seeks to so dramatize the issue that it can no longer be ignored. My citing the creation of tension as part of the work of the nonviolent-resister may sound rather shocking. But I must confess that I am not afraid of the word “tension.” I have earnestly opposed violent tension, but there is a type of constructive, nonviolent tension which is necessary for growth.”

One of the questions many have asked me, even challenged me on since the event, was around the ‘showing off’ of the event on social media. Every newspaper clipping posted on someone’s site, every mention of it splashed around the Twittersphere – were they not just another way of saying “look at me, I got arrested”? Were they not just a form of ego massage?

For me? YES!! and NO!!

I would be a liar of I denied that there was ANY sense of self back patting in this past week. I would be a liar if I hadn’t felt the ego swell when yet another text or Facebook message came in.

BUT – as a team, from the very beginning we named this, we held each other accountable, keeping our celebrations in check and focused on the issue, and more than once a text or call has been shared at an accountability level since the event.

BUT –

This was a drama and we were the ‘lead actors’! This was meant to gain maximum media coverage and attention. The bigger it was the better it was. This was not about 11 people being arrested, this was about WHY 11 people were arrested, WHY 11 people trespassed on Federal Government land – This is still about 1138 Children in detention centres!

We did not come in a spirit of self-righteousness or condemnation. We do not judge the Minister or her staff. In fact, we pray for our Foreign Minister in her difficult role. The friendly police officers were just doing their job, so we did not resist arrest. (quoted from here)

Some more questions I’ve been asked;
Does not Paul’s letter to Rome tell us to obey the laws of the land?
M.L. King puts it best when he wrote from the Birmingham jail –
One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.” Now, what is the difference between the two? How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man-made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law. To put it in the terms of St. Thomas Aquinas: An unjust law is a human law that is not rooted in eternal law and natural law. Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust.
Did You Know The Minister Would Not Be There?
Yes, we knew she was in Mexico, and that the chance of ever finding her in her Perth office was slim. But this is her office, her representation, they advocate for her. She and her wider staff and junior ministers are in constant contact with this site. Remember this is about dramatizing the cause. In some senses, if we had got an answer from her or through her office regarding a date for a release of kids in detention, or even a “no” we wont release them, we may have been very shocked! The question has been asked since kids have been sent to detention here in Australia and never been answered, the courts and the Human Rights Commission are still asking the question we asked.  Underlying our question was a desire to highlight that very question to Australia (and now the world as people such as Claybourne and Campolo are posting about this and the action in Sydney at Morrison’s office on their sites in the USA).  So her not being there was almost beside the point, obviously if she was present it would have been a bonus but I wonder if we would have even got near the reception due to security.
Was this not just a waste of tax payers money?
And the 5 billion dollars we spend on keeping people detained each year is not a waste? I don’t know what the cost our actions would have been to the public Monday. There were more than 20 police and support staff involved, so yes, there would have been a cost. But the truth is that if every person in detention today was released into the Australian community and claimed Centrelink for a year, (unlikely as many would jump in and start working and begin to pay tax), but if they all did, the cost of their living in our communities would be about $500M ! We would be saving $4.5B  a year. I think our action and the publicity it gained was money well spent.
Why non-violent, could you not have shouted a bit and thrown a few punches? 🙂
M.L. King refers to a double victory.
1) That we achieve a primary goal, for us a) That we get an answer on how long kids will remain in detention, or b) we get arrested for asking (this we did) and;
2) That we remained calm, at peace, and built relationships with the police and staff who we interacted with in our action. This we did. In fact some of us continue to be in contact with those who were called to remove us. They said, “You are the nicest people we have ever arrested”, “If I wasn’t in this uniform, I’d be there on the floor with you guys” and in all truth, these police, both federal and state were brilliant. They were warm, friendly men and women, they were respectful of our actions and they definitely did everything in their power to avoid arresting us! I asked if their insistence that we don’t push through to arrest was due to the amount of paper work they would have to do. They agreed that there was a bit of that, but they just said that the afternoon would be a long drawn out episode for us and would require a further court case and they felt for us having to go through all this. (I’d say there was lot of paper work though 🙂  )

Did you have to take it to the point of arrest, why not just get kicked out?

One of the police officers asked me this after we were offered the chance to get out and chat with the press via a “move on notice”.  I responded by saying that if we were there protesting bad recycling practices in our local suburb or some other such lesser issue we may take the offer. But this issue – kids in detention – was too big for a move on notice, it required an arrest and we would stay until removed by arrest. It is interesting to note that the officer agreed with me. We were arrested. We were taken to Northbridge lockup for the afternoon. Processed (finger prints etc) and released on $0 bail with an order to not approach Ministers of Government until our court appearance on May 2.

Outside Office

Are there not legal avenues to get these kids out?

In July 2002, the Family Court of Australia ordered the release of five Afghan children from Baxter Immigration detention centre. The children were being held there with their mother (and later their father was also detained). The children were released into community care, separate from their parents who remained in detention.

[But] the Minister appealed this case on the grounds that the Family Court had no jurisdiction in this area. This was upheld by the High Court in 2004 (Minister for Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs v B and B [2004] HCA 20). The children’s ongoing detention was deemed lawful under the Migration Act. It was found that sections 189 and 196 of the Migration Act make no distinction between unlawful non-citizens who are under or over the age of 18 and such matters were not relevant to the Family Courts.

In October 2004, without having to address any areas of Family Court jurisdiction, the High Court again found that it was lawful to keep children in continued immigration detention in the case of Woolley (Woolley; Ex parte Applicant M276/2003 (by their next friend GS) [2004] HCA 49).

After mounting pressure, a report by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (A Last Resort, 2004) [referred to above] and numerous medical experts providing evidence of the detrimental impacts of detention on children – legislative change was made. The Migration Act was amended in 2005 (Migration Amendments (Detention Arrangements) Act 2005) and section 4AA now states:

  1. The Parliament affirms as a principle that a minor shall only be detained as a measure of last resort.

In February 2011 there were 990 children held in immigration detention. (as of March 2014 – 1138) The Immigration Minister announced in October 2010 that ‘the majority of children would be out of detention by June 2011’. Despite section 4AA of the Migration Act there are no measures in place today for the arrival of children seeking asylum by boat other than to detain them as a first course of action.  (Source – State Library of  NSW)

 What Would Happen to These Kids If They Were Released?

A great question that must be asked, and one of the most often asked questions to me since the event last Monday.

As we wrote in our media explanation of why we did this;

The Uniting Church in Australia has offered to care for all the children currently in detention on Christmas Island.

The Baptist Churches in NSW have offered hospitality to over 80 people being transferred from Villawood.

The reality is that churches in Australia have more than sufficient resources to facilitate community-based care for all the children currently behind bars.

Our elected leaders only need to respond to our invitation. Australian people of all faiths and none will respond with creativity and compassion.

It is my understanding from precedent, that Children with parents are released with at least one parent into what is referred to a as APOD (Alternate places of detention) or community detention. Here are some further details for you, some further children are reportedly in detention taking totals to what we have been told are 1138;

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP) latest statistics are dated 28 February 2014 and were released around 18 March 2014. These show;
  • 1106 children locked in Australia’s secure immigration detention facilities, 
  • 356 of these children are detained on Christmas Island 
  • 177 of the children are detained in Nauru

 

  • 1579 are detained in the community under residence determinations.
  • 1816 children are living in the community on Bridging Visas which mean their parents have no work rights and very limited access to any Government support (this is an increase of around 100 in one month, indicating moves out of locked detention or out of community detention) (Italics mine, indicating something positive in all this…maybe?)

The statistics do not give a breakdown of how many children are unaccompanied vs how many are with adult family members.

In conclusion

You may be troubled by our actions. But ask yourself which is more troubling – the peaceful tradition of Christian civil disobedience, or the 1138 children  who are in prison indefinitely?

If you are as troubled as we are about how we are ignoring these children, we invite you to do one thing. We invite you to start a conversation. Talk with people at home, at work, at the football club or on Facebook. You may be surprised just how many people are troubled too. Let’s make sure that children in our detention centres can no longer be ignored. Will you join us? (Taken from WA Today Op Ed piece)

There will be another gathering, a show of support for the 11 arrested as they appear in court, but most importantly a stand against our Government’s decision to keep 1138 children in detention centres.

We will gather outside the court on May 2 at 7.45am. 501 Hay St Perth. I recommend a half day training event on Thursday 29th April 9.30am – 12 at Westcity Church Wembley.

newspaper article protest
We are –
The Reverend Chris Bedding (Darlington Anglican), Pastor Jarrod McKenna (Westcity Church) and Pastor Peter Barney (Riverview), Pastor Phil Stevenson (Westcity Church), Simone Stuart, Paul Montague (Uniting Church in WA), Julia Devereux (Lake Joondalup Baptist Church), Scott Vawser (Chaplain, Mission Australia), Miik Green, Kris Kingswell, Alex Holmes-Brown, Laura May, Michael Devereux (Lake Joondalup Baptist Church)

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22 thoughts on “Reflections On Getting Arrested

  1. Scott, I love you, man.
    Sure. The protest is not ‘about you’ (good on you for wrestling with this conundrum); BUT, those kids in detention don’t have a voice. You and I do! So, of course, it has to involve you (and me).
    Having protested and had my say many times on just this issue (and others); having been grilled by ‘christians’ who (rightly) wanted to know what the hell I was thinking; having been shouted at, threatened and abused in public; having been questioned and filmed by cops at the scene; having agonised over the very questions you have carefully described here; I have never having actually been arrested…I honour you. Your team made a calculated (wise as serpents) and non-violent (harmless as doves) decision to do this.
    Even though geography and circumstances keep us apart, I am richer for knowing you.

  2. Congratulations all of you, and a great article Scott. This is an issue which must not be swept under the carpet of comfortable respectability. Certainly the model provided by Jesus of Nazareth was one which was prepared to challenge and take risks when the occasion demanded it. And you are right, it is time, for us all to say stop this appalling treatment of the vulnerable

  3. I heard via the grapevine what was going on. Greatly encouraged by the collective action. Wish one was not so far away and could have photographed the Feds photographing you. There will come a time, soon I pray, when Australia stops following in the dark shadowy nationalist footsteps of Europe in the 1930’s and emerges back into the light of reason, compassion and hope.

    The PM, Feds and ASIO have long underestimated the power of the faithful, the retired and the peaceful in advocacy for change.

    Shalom

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  6. Hello “young” Scott!
    You can count me in on those willing to open home, heart and hearth to children and or adults released into the community. It’s a small place, and in the “country” in WA but I’d consider it an honour to care for, host and assist.
    From “XW”

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