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The untold story of the Parliament protest, Part 3: Protester injuries

In brief
  • Mainstream media coverage concentrated on injuries to police and ignored most injuries to protesters.
  • The Independent Police Conduct Authority confirmed unjustified arrests and use of force.
  • Police used potentially deafening loudspeakers and changed policy to allow pepper spraying  crowds. 

Wrongful arrests

In parts one and two of this series, we discussed the 2022 Parliament protest and how mainstream media failed to represent Kiwis or to explain why the protest happened. Media also told a one-sided story of clashes with police.

The 20 April 2023 review of police action during the protest by the Independent Police Conduct Authority (IPCA) said two-thirds of those arrested on February 10th had their charges withdrawn, mostly because police failed to tell people they were trespassing. This outcome was reasonable since people had no expectation of being arrested for joining a peaceful protest on Parliament grounds. The review found “the subsequent withdrawal of so many charges strongly suggests they should not have been laid in the first place.” This fundamental context of the initial police escalation was – and continues to be – ignored by the media.

Excessive force

The NZ Herald headlined “2 officers ‘assaulted’” but explained in the article “one officer was injured after the use of pepper spray on crowds while another suffered a few minor scratches.” This and similar articles made no mention of numerous protesters claiming they were injured at the hands (and boots) of police, including hospitalizations of women and elderly.

Many of these injuries, as well as injuries on other days, were confirmed in the IPCA review. 19 separate investigations into complaints of excessive force against individuals are ongoing, and IPCA’s preliminary investigation found the force unjustified in 8 cases. These include instances of police kicking people on the ground and using force on unresisting people, resulting in an eye injury.  A woman was bashed with a riot shield resulting in broken teeth, and an elderly man was knocked out by a female officer as he attempted to protect a female protester.

Injuries to protesters were evident from independent footage widely circulated on social media, although some of this was censored. Media largely ignored the injured protestors, with the exception of Phil Peters, of whom Stuff said he “[claimed] he was punched by police – and possibly eye gouged”. The “possible” incident was clearly evident in Stuff’s own footage.

The untold story of the Parliament protest, Part 3: Protester injuries - Centrist
The mainstream media was simply not on the side of the protesters.

Police policy escalation

Aside from these incidents, the IPCA review concluded the use of force was generally reasonable. This included the unprecedented use of sponge rounds and long range acoustic devices with risk of causing hearing damage.

However there were many caveats in the report, for instance “the [March 2] operation continued for considerably longer than it should have, and that this resulted in the use of force to no productive end.”

Police policy was to not use pepper-spray on crowds, but this was changed the day before the final clearing operation.

The new policy warned officers to “consider the potential for cross contamination of both subjects and staff due to overspray”. Despite the aforementioned media coverage, and a video from an earlier day appearing to show an instance of officers being hit with their own spray, the review denies this ever occurred.

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