Last Saturday, on the 4th of July, cops swarmed Melbourne public housing towers as a draconian lockdown was announced for the 3000 residents of the buildings, with no notice and no accessible resources aside from one text message that stated (in English only) that there was to be a lockdown.
Yes, you should absolutely be outraged over this, because not only is it blatantly racist and discriminatory, but legitimately dangerous to these people’s livelihood and health.
Tower residents have spent five days under armed house arrest and the government has failed to provide basics such as medicine, nappies & food #FreeThe9Blocks
— Joshua Badge (@joshuabadge) July 9, 2020
At the end of June, a bunch of new cases of the coronavirus were recorded in Melbourne with a concentration in 10 specific suburbs. There have been over 100 new cases a day in Victoria for the past several days.
On Saturday, July 4th, 23 new cases were confirmed across 9 public housing towers in Flemington and North Melbourne, and 3000 residents were forced into an immediate ‘hard’ lockdown with no notice or resources supplied to them, and an armed police presence of 500 officers at any given time per building.
No one was allowed to enter or leave the buildings for five days, including visitors that weren’t allowed to go home. It’s been five days now, and the restrictions have not lifted. In a horrible double standard, other people in the same postcode and suburb were given until midnight to prep for the lockdown.
Journos: it’s Day 5 of what was set to be a 5-day lockdown for the 9 blocks. On Tue @DanielAndrewsMP said once testing was complete, residents would “move to the same footing” as the rest of Melb (stay-at-home with four reasons to leave). So what’s going on? #FreeThe9Blocks
— Jinghua Qian (@qianjinghua) July 9, 2020
How This Is Straight Up Discriminatory On A Classist And Racist Level
So, first and foremost: racism is systematic and institutionalised. It disproportionately affects low SES, ethnic minority communities. Class and race often come together in under-funded migrant communities, and so it’s no surprise that some of the most vulnerable people in Melbourne public housing are being abused by the current system.
Imagine being that eager to declare you think political discomfort Dans feeling is more important to centre than 3000 people’s experiences of deprivation of liberty, food, medication and healthcare enforced by the institution who have a long history of brutalizing them?
— Kat (@KatelynJonesFD) July 9, 2020
Many of the public housing residents that are currently on lockdown are refugees and migrants who have already been detained and mistreated by our government in
illegal containment camps detention centres, and have experience with being denied medical aid, food and family.
Every harm at the hands of police, every instance of domestic violence, every instance of self-harm, every suffering of people with disability who can’t access sufficient care that occurs in the locked down public housing flats is the direct responsibility of @DanielAndrewsMP.
— Priya Kunjan (@PriyaKunjan) July 4, 2020
I didn’t realise that I was “poor, hard to engage, and vulnerable” until a Victorian Government official told me that me and my public housing community were these things. We don’t think of ourselves as that because we were busy trying to get by.
— David Mejia-Canales (@dmejiacanales) July 6, 2020
Residents of Melbourne’s public housing towers were not given any notice of their immediate lockdown, and unlike the more gentrified places in the same postcode and suburb, were not given until midnight to prepare and gather supplies. Other areas of Melbourne were given 48 hours to prepare for lockdown. Public housing residents were given none, and visitors are still trapped with them since they were unable to leave when lockdown was suddenly announced.
Before u whinge about lockdown, remember that while ur baking sourdough, black & brown folks literally down the road from you are imprisoned in their home. Police out their front doors. Unable to get supplies. That hasn’t changed & they don’t know when it will.#freethe9blocks
— Roxy Moore (@Roxy_Moore_) July 7, 2020
There is a very real and obvious double standard in the way Black & POC residents of the units were treated compared to their white and wealthy counterparts.
“The government didn’t lock down Toorak, Malvern, or Portsea when people there risked everyone’s health by happily disregarding isolation after returning from skiing in Aspen.”
Human rights lawyer and public housing resident @dmejiacanales #FreeThe9Blockshttps://t.co/e9hEuQOo1O
— crystal mckinnon (@crystalam) July 9, 2020
The government did not cater for the culturally and linguistically diverse group they were about to condemn to imprisonment with translations of instructions – many residents were confused about what was happening and what the rules were as there wasn’t any clear communication. There are stories directly from residents of people being denied aid by police, police barring volunteers from providing food and medical supplies, and of families being separated from their children.
This is what the health messaging in one of the North Melbourne towers looks like. The signs on every floor are solely in English, the translations are only in the lobby. Not a great e.g. of clear communication #FreeThe9Blocks pic.twitter.com/OpnWld8tSm
— Joshua Badge (@joshuabadge) July 9, 2020
There Was Basically No Food Or Medical Aid For The Trapped Families
Police saying they’ve been ordered by @VicGovDHHS to not allow food/supplies/meds until morning. #freethe9blocks pic.twitter.com/cfUqc9k55P
— Amona (@amona_hassab) July 7, 2020
Residents of Melbourne’s public housing towers weren’t even given food aid till much later – and even then, the food that arrived was limited and not enough to feed people, without even taking into account people’s dietary requirements or health needs. The food that the government supplied was often also expired and poorly distributed, and most of the supplies they currently have are from the local community, who claim cops tried to bully them and prevent them from dropping off food.
URGENT: A mother of 7 living in the 12 Holland Court tower has told me she STILL hasn’t received a single supply. No bread, no milk. Her youngest is 8 weeks old and she has no nappies. Can anyone help?
— Rachel Cary (@CaryRachel) July 6, 2020
This donated food has been sitting here since 12pm today and has not been delivered to #publichousing residents. It’s 7:46pm.
21 able-bodied police officers standing around doing nothing.
And the residents go hungry…#melbournelockdown #freethe9blocks pic.twitter.com/rM5yf54XrX
— Indy McMahon (@indy_mcmahon) July 8, 2020
An Armed-Police Response Is Unnecessary And Just A Blatant Attempt At Intimidation And Criminalisation
Deploying hundreds of police officers to intimidate ethnic communities is just cooked on so many levels. If you take in the context of these communities already having high rates of police targeting, brutality and racial profiling due to their combination of low SES and high Black and POC population, it’s actually dangerous.
Paired with the recent BLM movement and protests against police brutality, this just reeks of systematic and institutionalised racism enforced by cops.
500 police being deployed to terrorise (let’s be real) the 3000 mostly Black and Brown residents of Flemington and North Melbourne public housing residents being held under arbitrary home detention. A ratio of 1:6. This is horrifying.
— Priya Kunjan (@PriyaKunjan) July 4, 2020
Police have no place in a public health crisis – we don’t need fear, intimidation or criminalisation. We need nurses, psychologists, social workers, health professionals and other community support systems.
V weird watching a Police Minister deliver an update on the health and humanitarian situation. Why didn’t health or housing lead on a health and housing issue.
— Osman Faruqi (@oz_f) July 9, 2020
The people on lockdown are not criminals, have not done anything wrong, and have been very supportive and cooperative of their community needs. Yet they have cops at their door, keeping them locked up and isolating them from family, friends and resources. Is it a crime to be ethnic, poor, and living in shitty crowded apartments that the government refuses to invest in?
Residents under house arrest are confused about yesterdays press briefing. Will the stage 3 restrictions apply to them too or will they have to wait until all 3000 recieve their results before they’re released? All of my family & friends have tested negative and still detained.
— Amona (@amona_hassab) July 8, 2020
This entire mess is an absolute outrage. To not only target a specific group of people based on race and class, but to then deny them basic needs and treat them like criminals on absolutely no grounds is blatant discrimination. This article dissects the complex racial structures at play, and outlines how human rights are being abused in the Melbourne public housing lockdown. To pretend anything less is to be complicit in the systematic racism that enables this shit to happen.
Image Sources: Twitter