CW: This article discusses violence, police violence and people struggling with mental health.
A Victorian police officer has been suspended after footage emerged of him allegedly assaulting a man and stomping on his head. According to the ABC, the 32-year-old man is now in a comatose state in hospital. Here’s what you need to know about the incident.
Here’s what we know happened
On Sunday, the 13th of September, a man was at a hospital in Melbourne, Victoria, seeking treatment for mental health issues. He abruptly left the venue, which, according to the BBC, prompted staff to call the police.
Then the man was seen, via footage taken on a bystander’s mobile phone, walking across a street, waving to a police car and allegedly kicking another, before facing away from the vehicle and walking away. Seconds later, the clip shows the same police car driving into the man.
Soon after, it cuts to the man on the ground and surrounded by several officers. One officer in question reportedly can be seen allegedly stomping on his head before others pin him to the ground. It’s very distressing and, regardless of whatever the man had or hadn’t done, not acceptable behaviour from a police officer.
It is unclear why the man is under arrest but it does not seem like he has breached lockdown measures or curfew. Ever since the Melbourne lockdown, Victoria Police have been given unprecedented powers to fine and detain people breaching COVID-19 rules.
What happened to the man?
Following the incident, the man arrested has suffered significant head injuries and is, per the ABC, in an induced coma in hospital.
His family has accused the police of using “excessive force,” telling the Herald Sun that the footage was, “like watching a video from America or Beirut.” His lawyer, Jeremy King, added that the man had not committed a crime and was in a “vulnerable” state.
“Really he’s a person that the police should be dealing with in a very unique way,” King told the ABC.
What is the Victorian Police’s response?
According to the BBC, the Victoria Police say that “its officers heard reports of a man behaving erratically in the suburb of Epping at about 16:10 on Sunday.”
“During the highly dynamic incident a police officer was assaulted and [pepper spray] was deployed before the man was arrested and subsequently taken to hospital for assessment,” a police spokesperson said on Monday. “Upon arrival the male allegedly became aggressive and damaged a police vehicle while attempting to avoid arrest.”
On Monday, Victoria Police revealed they had suspended two police officers involved and would undergo an internal investigation. But, other footage taken from the scene shows several officers allegedly chasing after the man, circling him and pinning him to the group.
Just like the U.S. police officer who assaulted Jacob Blake, a Black man, and the ones who murdered Breonna Taylor and Dominique Fells, the Victorian police officers behind this incident should be punished beyond just a suspension. Fortunately, the investigation is being done by the Independent Broad-based Anti-Corruption Commission and not by the police themselves.
This incident is a further reminder that police are often not equipped to handle mental health situations, and police forces should be defunded to provide more resources to social workers who can.