What I did after witnessing racism on public transport

by karwalski

I boarded the 10.02pm Train from Central to Waterfall on the Sydney Eastern Suburbs & Illawarra Line. Within 10 minutes I had started to go to sleep as I normally do on trains. I was awoken around 10.20pm by a Caucasian female (aggressor) who made a very loud statement along the lines of ‘Why do you dress like that when you are pregnant’ .. I instantly awoke and it was clear the comment was directed to an Asian female (victim) and her Asian partner (victims partner). As I rubbed my eyes and sat up to understand what was going on, it was clear the victim was intimidated by the comment, possibly looking away and ignoring at first. A verbal exchange involving the aggressor, victim and victims partner than began. The victims partner repeatedly stated ‘leave us alone’. The situation quickly escalated and the aggressor started using offensive language and commenting on the victim and partners race, lines about the ‘immigration problem’ and suggesting the victimised couple were the ‘problem’. At multiple occasions during the couple of minutes the exchange the aggressor looked to me as if I should be either approving or encouraging her actions.. I shook my head in disbelief.. I stated something along the lines of that’s enough or stop it, to which I received a response yelled back at me, I cannot recall what was said but something about minding my own business. I then proceed to turn my phone camera on and made a comment about the aggressor wanting to be on YouTube (reference to the recent videos that went viral and made the news). http://youtu.be/fCstvq3wf7Q The footage lasted 83 seconds, and mainly involved the aggressor telling me to stop filming, then trying to grab the camera off me by reaching over the top of me. I stopped recording on request. The verbal attacks then started on me as well as the victim and partner as the aggressor resumed her seat. I opened ustream in an attempt to continue filming so that the footage could not be deleted etc. I only got about 12 seconds, of which I explained ustream recording live http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/31937487 .. the footage was cut short as I must have bumped the screen or one of the buttons as the agressor argued with me whilst standing beside my seat, then went to grab the camera.. the image is also mostly frozen as only the audio was streamed for the last few seconds.

I was then subjected to a 30 second long attack where the aggressor attempted to grab my phone.. and even tried to put her hand in my pocket containing my wallet at one stage. As she backed off, I noticed a man (off duty police officer – not identifying himself at this stage) standing near the carriage doors. I asked him calmly to press the red/orange button.. be began to walk up the stairs towards us, I said no need for him to be involved just wanted someone to press the red/orange button that notifies the guard. The man asked if I knew the aggressor, I stated no, he suggested I move to another carriage, I agreed, and immediately moved to the next carriage as the train pulled into Hurstville station.

Upon the doors opening the aggressor then entered my carriage, confronted me and started yelling about the earlier recordings. I did not answer, pressed the nearby red/orange button to notify the guard and stood in the doorway to wave at the train guard 100m away. As the train guard arrived and the aggressor started to yell about the footage, I calmly said to the train guard that I will help him get the train moving, I will either sit off this train and wait for next if she boards, or I will board train if she waits on platform.. she refused.. at which stage the off duty police officer stepped into the conversation and quickly flicked out his NSW police badge, he was wearing thongs and looked like he had spent the day at the ANZAC celebrations. He explained he wouldn’t normally intervene but he is off duty on his way home, and the situation had escalated to a point where he must, he advised he had called for on duty officers and the train guard also advised he had called for transit officers.

I again offered ways to de-escalate the situation, by one of us boarding the train and the other waiting for the next one.. the aggressor refused until I deleted the video footage. I declared I did not feel comfortable deleting the footage showing an attack at this stage, and that I understood my right to film people in a public place. The off duty officer asked the train guard to take his train and leave, I apologised to the guard for inconvenience, and agreed the train should leave as it had already been delayed. The off duty officer remained with us as I looked away and ignored the aggressor  and for the most part he did not talk much either. Within 5 minutes of the train leaving about 30 police officers together came running down the stairs to the platform, shocked I waved to them to call their attention to us. I discussed with one of the more senior officers (not the 2 in captains hats or dress clothes keeping their distance) I explained the situation, similar to above.. and also stated I am not looking to take further or file assault charges, simply I would not stand for this type of behaviour. When the officer asked me to delete the footage stating ‘you cannot record people..’ I declared I would not delete the footage once again, as I did not feel comfortable at this stage. Another 2 officers turned to us and joined an argument, citing a wiretap recording law, I stated I disagreed, showed my press pass for ‘photo journalism’ and said I have the right to film people in a public place, what I do with the footage is a different story re. publication etc. I also explained part of the reason was for the publicly safety, but mainly for raising awareness to such attacks on Australian public transport. The 2 additional officer disengaged from the conversation once I had made my intentions and understanding of the law clear.

Whilst the questioning officer went and spoke with a second officer whom was questioning the aggressor, I had a quick chat with the 2 officers who previously disengaged, they revealed the reason for the 30+ (all units) call was that it was called in as officer being assaulted (for a moment it sounded like she was going to say ‘officer down’). The officers also stated their displeasure at being called to the station as they off shift as well. I sympathised and said I understood it is a big day for the force with major events on etc. I also offered a personal apology to the female officer who had stated she was tired and ‘wanted to go home’.

I was told by the questioning officer in the presence of 3 other officers to at least pretend to delete the footage on their request, i acted along and made the hand gestures as I saw the benefit in de-escalating the situation and getting everyone home.. including me. I was then asked to sit at the other end of the platform and wait my train whilst they continued to talk to the aggressor (raising her voice at the police at this stage). At no stage was I even asked my name, let alone for ID, although if they were quick readers may have read on my press pass.

I then started tweeting and uploading videos.

My thoughts on this and other occurrences of every day racism in Australia… Stand up and say NO to racism.

What would you do in this situation? Would you risk the attack turning on you and possibly becoming violent? Why are NSW Police STILL telling people to delete mobile phone footage? Should we film these events to name and shame, drive the message on the 6pm news? Should we ignore and mind our own business? Do we need to educate Australia and stop the hate messages on immigration from major political parties?

I leave you with a quote that forever sticks in the back of my head and drives me to such actions.

“First they came for the communists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a communist.

Then they came for the socialists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a socialist.

Then they came for the trade unionists,
and I didn’t speak out because I wasn’t a trade unionist.

Then they came for me,
and there was no one left to speak for me.”
Martin Niemöller (disputed origin)

Note on videos, if you would like to republish I suggest pixelating the aggressors face.. I am supplying un edited without pixalating, I accept this risk however believe that raising awareness to this issue is more important than a legal threat. dispute at legal@karwalski.net