Ten police injured, more than 200 arrested in anti-lockdown protest
By Tom Cowie, David Estcourt and Ashleigh McMillan
Updated September 18, 2021 — 12.16pm first published at 9.08am
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Ten police have been injured, six taken to hospital and 235 demonstrators arrested after authorities used capsicum spray on groups of anti-lockdown protesters who broke through police lines near Richmond early on Saturday afternoon.
Protesters hurled projectiles and abuse at authorities before surging through the police line, screaming and being soaked in capsicum spray as they went. One female police officer was trampled in the chaos, with scuffles breaking out along the road.
Chief Executive Officer at The Police Association Victoria, Wayne Gatt, is speaking about the anti-lockdown protests in Melbourne yesterday in which ten police were injured and 235 demonstrators arrested.
Travel in and out of Melbourne by public transport and car ground to a halt to prevent the anti-lockdown protest from starting, however it did not thwart the rally completely.
The protesters gathered in Richmond then marched to Hawthorn to avoid checkpoints aimed at keeping them out of the CBD.
Police set up checkpoints on roads into the city to stop people from travelling into Melbourne without a reason ahead of the rally that was originally planned for 12pm on Saturday.
Protesters changed the location to Richmond and began gathering at about midday outside the Richmond Town Hall on Bridge Road.
Hundreds marched in the middle of the road chanting “no more lockdown” and “sack Dan Andrews”. Most were not wearing masks.
Victoria Police northwest region commander Mark Galliott said 235 protesters were arrested, with 193 facing fines for breaching the Chief Health Officer’s directions Dozens are facing charges including assault, riotous behaviour and weapons and drugs offences.
“What we saw today was a group of protesters that came together, not to protest freedoms, but simply to take on and have a fight with the police,” he said.
“We’re here to help and keep the community safe. What we don’t to come to work for is to get trampled, assaulted, and end up going home with broken bones.”
Commander Galliott said police were at times worried about their safety, and that the cost of the total operation would run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
The protesters walked up Bridge Road and then turned down Burnley Street, where the rally stopped and protesters sat in the middle of the street shouting “you serve us” at police.
Police used capsicum spray to subdue some protesters, who were closed in on both sides by officers carrying batons.
Another group of protesters later arrived and sandwiched police at one end of the demonstration.
The protesters as one point broke through a gate of an apartment complex to evade police, causing traffic chaos in Richmond’s side streets.
They then walked back to Bridge Road before moving up Church Street in Hawthorn and then back down to Barkers Road to avoid police. Police surrounded protesters again in a gorge on Victoria Street and used capsicum spray to turn them back.
Protesters managed to surge through the police line, screaming and soaked in capsicum spray as they went.
At least one officer was knocked over and trampled in the bedlam.
“God gave free will and freedom of choice, it’s not for government to take it,” one protester yelled from the crowd.
“The mental health toll is too great,” said another.
The protest continued in diminishing numbers in Melbourne’s inner east after winding through streets for up to 10 kilometres.
A group of around 200 protesters again congregated near the corner of Bridge Road and Church Street about 2.30pm, with police blocking both sides of the major thoroughfare, before the protesters dispersed shortly after.
More than 2000 officers have been deployed as part of the anti-protest operation, with senior police stating they will do everything they can to prevent access to the city.
Police made two hundred arrests at the last anti-lockdown rally on August 21 after more than 4000 people descended on the city.
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said earlier this week that intelligence suggested thousands more may be planning to attend Saturday’s protest in breach of lockdown restrictions.
“This is the biggest game in town for us, to stop this occurring,” Mr Patton said. “There’s nothing more important than what we’re about to embark on this weekend to stop this protest.
“We’ll do everything we can to prevent access to the city.”
Mr Patton also revealed that the longer restrictions go on the more likely it was that people would be fined. He said the longer and heavier the lockdown the greater the temptation was for people to break the rules.
Access to the CBD will only be granted to those travelling for essential work, healthcare or to attend a vaccination appointment.
Earlier in the day, cars were banked up for over 100 metres outside the Women’s Hospital on Flemington Road as authorities closely checked the permit and ID of every motorist trying to get into the CBD.
Rally instructions, sent around on an encrypted messaging service, asked protesters to move in smaller groups of 10 to 20 before meeting up near the final location to hold the demonstration.
On Friday, construction workers brought traffic around the city to a standstill with a demonstration smoko after being told they would no longer be able to use tea rooms.
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Tom Cowie is a senior journalist at The Sunday Age. You can contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via secure email email@example.comConnect via Twitter or email.