Thursday, June 21, 2007

welcome to the heidelberg hotel

Some of what follows is unsubstantiated (which simply means that its veracity has not been tested by legal processes and not that it is untrue), but most of what you are about to read is completely true and happened to a friend of mine from Sydney (let’s call him Harry) and me from the ninth to the fourteenth of June this year. To whet your appetite, this is a tale of police brutality, state oppression and middling media machinations against an accomplished graff writer in particular and graff as a whole.
As you probably didn’t read in the Herald Sun or hear about on some of the corporate media news programs, shortly after midnight on June the ninth, five men broke into the Epping Railyards and commenced spray painting a couple of carriages of a Connex passenger train. They were disturbed by someone early into this foray and fled the scene. Later that morning at roughly five o’clock, they returned and recommenced graffing the same carriages. This time, they were apprehended by the police who arrested two of them but let the other three go (a fact never considered by prosecution, magistrate or media). Those two men were immediately arrested for property damage, refused bail because of the possibility they might abscond interstate and kept in remand at the Heidelberg Police Station (which is, according to the inmates there, the worst police gaol house in Melbourne - more on that in a moment) until their hearing at the Heidelberg Magistrates Court.
Unfortunately, this was the Queen’s Birthday long weekend so their court hearing was not scheduled until some time on Tuesday. I’m one of two people Harry knows in Melbourne and the only who could spare the time to support him. I visited the Heidelberg Police Station on Monday the eleventh at six pm. I was met with thinly veiled disdain by an officer on duty who buzzed me through to the interview area at which point I was met by a much more helpful and civil officer who directed me to sign a visitor’s book with my name and address, which I did.
After waiting for about five minutes, I entered the interview room, which was a cramped, fluoro lit cubicle with a chair, a narrow bench jutting out of a slightly blood smeared glass panel that stretched up to the ceiling and a densely meshed grille to permit the passage of sound. There would be no contact. The prisoner’s side of the divide had blood smears around the walls. Eventually, I heard some clanging and Harry entered his side of the cubicle. I spent the next forty or so minutes talking to Harry about his situation, asking questions about what had happened and how he was going.
He told me he’d been interrogated for ten hours on the first day. The ‘interviewing’ cops randomly and repeatedly over those ten hours smashed the back of his head - sometimes into the table, pinned Harry into the wall with the table forcefully rammed up into his ribs from beneath. This cop and his accomplice both verbally assaulted Harry shouting things such as, “A pudgy boy like you is going to be popular in prison,” and “You’re gonna get raped. You’ll know what it feels like to be a woman,” and “Fuck with me and I’ll fuck with you: welcome to the Heidelberg Hotel.” Twice when evoking his right to a phonecall during his no comment ‘interview’, the tape recorder was stopped and he was told that his right hand been revoked although no reason was given.
As for the ‘Heidelberg Hotel’, Harry and other inmates were treated with contempt by most of the police. Although there was the capacity to do otherwise, cell lights were kept on twenty-four hours a day, making sleep difficult. There was absolutely no natural light. The food was of poor nutritional value, consisting, in part, of microwaved spam, reheated toast and cordial. Prisoners were not allowed to smoke or leave their cells for exercise. Most requests to the police were met with shouts and doors slammed in inmates’ faces. Apparently, being in remand is worse than being in a prison proper because so many practical, physical and psychological needs are denied. Harry experienced extreme sensory deprivation as he was left without anything to promote mental stimulation – no books, no magazines, no paper, no pens. Most of the inmates were withdrawing from smack.
Once my chat with Harry was over, the helpful police officer told me he’d be released tomorrow morning and that his court hearing could be from anywhere between ten am and five pm, more likely to occur in the afternoon. Because I had no knowledge of legal process I believed her. So it was disconcerting returning to the police station the next morning to be denied the opportunity to see Harry and being grilled by an officer on duty. The cop asked to see and took note of my ID. Three of the other offenders had eluded apprehension and so it looked like I was being turned into one by my association with Harry. The cop was implying guilt, but I’m innocent so I wasn’t too bothered by this turn of events. I found his manner offensive, though.
After waiting all morning at the Magistrates Court for some news and after helping to arrange a good lawyer for him and after speaking at length to Harry’s distraught father, I returned to the police station to deliver a fresh set of clothes for Harry as he’d been wearing the same clothes since he’d been caught four days previously. I’d arranged with Harry the night before to buy some cigarette papers and filters and had brought some clothing and toiletries for him. I was grilled again by another officer who asked me how I knew Harry and whether or not I knew what he does ‘for a living’. He also asked for my name, which I gave him. That was the third time I’d offered my name to the cops.
I returned to the court and after several more hours of waiting, Harry’s lawyer finally arrived. Harry’s hearing was held simultaneously with the other two apprehended men, third one having given himself up, although the police and media claimed he’d returned to the railyards for his wallet. Harry looked extremely stressed sitting there in the stand, not seeing me in the packed gallery until I waved at him. Seeing me seemed to do little to lift his flagging spirits and fair enough given what he was about to experience. The Magistrate, John Hardy, was a grumpy and odd man with a wavy main of hair and flowing beard. Not at all the typical image of a Magistrate, but nonetheless fulfilling the seemingly essential characteristics of being a middle aged, middle class, white man. The solicitors had a difficult time compellingly presenting their clients’ cases who pleaded guilty to all their charges, which for Harry consisted of possession of (planted by the police) bolt cutters and property damage. The cost of the damages was estimated at a maximum of $1,000.
The Magistrate refrained from handing down his sentence until the following morning, meaning that the men were to be kept in remand one more night. As I was dejectedly leaving the court with the lawyer, I was tapped on the back by someone. I turned to be confronted by three police – two men and a woman. They demanded to see me ID and to inspect my bag. Although not arresting me, I could have given them reason to do so by not complying. Regardless, the lawyer informed me that I didn’t need to answer their questions and he was swiftly and aggressively told to get lost by two of the pigs. I kept my answers vague when I thought questions were unnecessary. Two of the police were incredibly intimidating, the remaining was not. It was a strange routine: bad cop, bad cop, good cop. I wasn’t buying any of it, but I was rattled by the experience of two hyper-aggressive pigs with authority flexing some muscle at my expense. They were quite incredibly moronic.
The bad guy cop questioned the veracity of my ID. He looked at my RMIT staff ID which, admittedly, looks dodgy. But he revealed his utter stupidity by asking to see my staff card. I angrily told him that he was looking at it and thrust it back in his face. He re-inspected it and replied with, “Oh. It said Smith,” meaning he’d been confused because the staff card contained my surname, which he confused with the word student somehow. Doesn’t make sense to me, either. See? Stupid. These are the people ‘keeping us safe’. From graffiti… Anyway, he then insisted on looking through my diary which I always carry with me but rarely use. He demanded that I be able to prove it as mine. I had some difficulty doing that. I told them a few of the dates it contained. The same cop once again demanded to inspect the front pockets of my bag, grabbing it off me and then pretending to be concerned about ‘sharps’. He looked at my whiteboard markers and asked if I always carry markers with me. I said, “I told you, I’m a tutor and they’re whiteboard markers. I use them to write on whiteboards.” I was met with no reply this time. I like to think that at this point he cottoned on to the fact he’s a mental lightweight.
The lawyer I was with started giving shit to the bad cops, which took the heat off me a little bit, while the good cop started inspecting the spare clothes and the toiletries I had not been permitted to hand to Harry. He asked a few questions and told me that I could relax. At the end of all of this harassment, the male bad cop told me, “We may or may not be in touch.” The lawyer openly smirked at them. A reporter from one of the corporate stations was taking note. Cameras rolled and flashed as we left the court house. All this for lawfully supporting a friend in trouble with the law.
The next morning, the sentence was handed down. Harry got thirty days sentence, wholly suspended. The five days he’d spent in custody were not to be subtracted from the sentence, effectively meaning that the time he’d spent inside served no retributive purpose. The Magistrate said that he found the whole affair ‘sinister’ and that the men needed to be made an example of to discourage future crimes of this nature. Yeah right, because punishment has always been an effective deterrent against crime.
Upon leaving court, I rang Harry’s girlfriend in Sydney to let her know the news and was accosted by a channel ten reporter (the one who was hanging around while I was harassed by the cops the previous night) who asked me, “Are you happy your friend got away with it?” I pushed her big fluffy boom mic out of my face and continued talking to Harry’s girlfriend. Let’s get something straight, Harry didn’t get away with anything. He spent five awful days in prison and now has a conviction and a suspended prison sentence of thirty days. Not something to brag about in most circles. And all this for graffing a Connex train carriage and – with four other guys, remember – causing a maximum of $1000 worth of damage. That’s exceptionally harsh. A previous case responsible for causing more damage was handed a sentence of one hundred-and-fifty or so hours community service, no criminal record.
I met Harry in the cop shop reception once he was finally released and prepped him with my black hoodie over his head and led him out to run the media gauntlet. Their response was an immediate jostling and taunting, cameras snapping, film rolling and both reporters and camera men asking absurd questions designed to provoke a response. Somebody tried to push a boom mic up under Harry’s hood. We were pushed around and had to ignore questions like, “You’ll paint our trains but you won’t show your face in public. Why is that?” and “Are you grateful you were let off so lightly?” Eventually after what seemed like fifty metres, they stopped chasing us, probably because the other offender had just left the police station (one was sentenced to sixty days imprisonment, thirty days suspended).
Harry and I hid and debriefed out the back of Heidelberg’s shopping mall, where Harry chain smoked about four cigarettes. We spent something like twenty minutes there talking about what had just happened. Harry’s relief was palpable but he was paranoid that people were watching us. We decided to catch a taxi but after waiting another twenty or so minutes, gave up on and walked off towards the train station. We were both in a good mood but in unison we looked up ahead and peering around a corner was a film camera filming our approach. “Fuck!” we both said and Harry put my hoodie back over his head but by now it was too late. As we rounded the corner the film guys had been hanging behind, still filming, I said, “Enough’s enough.”
And the camera‘man’ replied, “Yeah, enough is enough. I’ve had it up to here with you c*nts. You come down from Brisbane and fuck up our beautiful city. Ironic, isn’t it boys? You damage our trains but where you going to now? The train station!”
I felt like replying, “That’d only be ironic if you’re Alanis Morisette, you fuckwit,” but stopped and deathstared at the camera guy and his accomplice for a moment while I contemplated what we should do next. Harry still had his head under the hoodie, of course. I decided we should return back down the road, slip down another side street and try for another taxi. Once again we were left waiting for about fifteen minutes, but fortunately a bus came along and so we caught it to Box Hill, returning to the city on the train. Harry would have been fucked if he was on his own.
This whole experience left us both shell shocked. Of course, Harry had it worse than I did. Not only had the prison and legal experience been a total miscarriage of justice, and a traumatic one at that, but he had to deal with the public shaming of the media, eager for some sensationalist garbage to peddle on that night’s news. Laughably, Harry’s lawyer’s boss wanted him to speak to Today Tonight. Naturally Harry declined because, if he hadn’t already learnt, the day’s experience with corporate media taught Harry that it serves the interests of the ruling class and the state and could only misrepresent him and all writers. Although I’m putting words into Harry’s mouth here.
And although I’m an outsider (and a long term enthusiast) of graff, my reflections on this situation prompt me to write that Harry’s experience with the legal system clearly shows the law so often serves to protect the interests of business at the expense of little people like you, me and Harry. The hypocrisy of which couldn’t ring louder than when Harry showed me a glossy official Melbourne tourism guide whose front cover features graffiti (by Sydney writer Phibs). It seems that, in Victoria, we only tolerate graff if it contributes to the production of capital. As Harry said to me (although I don’t completely buy it), writing on trains is about creating mobile public art and you can’t sell that. But I reckon the illegality of Harry’s actions are an important component of why he graffed in the way he did (and can no longer afford to) because illegal graff is a form of resistance to the law, to the state and to capitalism itself. That is to say, illegal graffing is probably the most legit form of graff, understood in terms of the spirit and ethos of graffiti. At the very least, it's impossible to have legal graff without the illegal stuff.
Try using that as defence in court.
Now Playing: Kid Koala - Skanky Panky

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At 5:45 pm, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a graffer just like your mate and I hope you get caught soon. There is no legal graffing, just in your mind. The Courts are finally clamping down on you freaks of nature and you might find members of the public might give you a flogging if they catch you. I definitely would because I can picture you all are week dweebs.

At 9:39 pm, Blogger Dreck said...

Hey Troll.
Thanks for your paltry contribution but I know what I do and unfortunately I don't have the skillz for graff and have no need to lie about this.
And so good of you to channel the will of the people in your proclamations, by the way.
So you'd only beat the shit out of graff writers if they were weak. You're a tough guy, ain't ya?
And it's weak dweebs, not 'week'.


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