Living Against the Police, Solidarity for Survival
Mark: Part 2 of 5
This post begins picking up where the narrative in the last post left off, adding more detail in response to the last question asked in the previous post, which was about Mark’s proximity to, and participation in, crime. The details throughout this post outline the intensification of policing, pressure from organised crime groups, and how these conditions amplified each other. This post also considers how the general conditions of the neighbourhood provided a political education into the role of police and the policing of the poor, and how people who live in these types of neighbourhoods find ways to refuse, navigate, and grapple with everyday life in heavily policed contexts.
Mark: I have been talking to my siblings about us doing this interview and writing thing, and we’ve been sharing and comparing our own particular memories of those times and the different experiences we each had. I remember I got a lot of shit from other students at school about all of this stuff, about druggie parents and being poor and stuff. And I also remember that the school didn’t really speak to me at all about it, about what was happening at home or the shit at school. I mean I wouldn’t have wanted them to, but it also seems weird that it just never came up with my year advisor or anything, cos it was a smallish town the prison stuff was in the papers, sometimes with photos. My sister mentioned that when she was in like year 2, her teacher would ask her to walk around the playground with her, asking Adelaide how she was, how was stuff at home, how we all were and so on. When my sister mentioned this at home one time, mum and Tony told her not to talk to the teacher about what happened at home. I remember a similar interaction I had with them once, like not to talk to other people about what happened in the house. So, there was an awareness in some ways, but yeah… And little things, like my other sister mentioned having a strange feeling using big spoons and not really using them until after she had moved out of home, which went back to the knowledge that in our house they were used to cook up smack. So, there are all these weird ways in which the experience and knowledge you have, even as a child, takes shape in you and shapes you for so many years.
Earlier, we were speaking of care, often care was about housing, and we often had people come and stay with us, people who were struggling. There was a lot of like cyclical issues related to the heroin, a lot of policing in relation to that, but there was also a lot of care, and this was an important part of navigating the policing and other issues. So, Sharon would come and stay with us for quite a while. And she was a good person having a really hard time. She was only young, I don’t know exactly but probably mid-late 20s, and her partner had taken his own life. But yeah, she would come and stay. Another time Robin was staying with us for quite a while, and Dave, these are all Mum's and Tony’s friends, I guess when they were homeless, in-between places, or getting away from other issues. Whether it was my friends, Adelaide's friends, or Mum and Tony's friends, there always seemed to be people staying in our house, which was kind of cool in some ways.
This one time, I can’t remember her name, but she was hiding out from the cops for some reason, and then the cops came to the front door banging and calling out to open the door. In the back of the house was where the washing machine was, and also where there was a manhole into the roof. So, she ran from Mum’s room, where she was sleeping, and then just leaped off the washing machine into the roof of the house and hid up there while the cops came looking for her. They didn't find her, so that was cool. Mum always thought one of the cops saw a footprint on the machine and clocked the manhole but didn’t bother with it. I dunno if that last bit is true though.
Mum and Tony were both in relationship to criminal circles in Sydney. They would get their heroin supply from them and they would sell some of it and use some of it. For a period, they were using a lot and got into debt with those Sydney folks. When they were on good terms with the people in Sydney, they actually sent us a Christmas hamper and there was like a friendship of sorts and respect there. But at a certain point Mum and Tony had fallen out with them and owed quite a lot of money. The people in Sydney were making physical threats on us, like threats on the safety of me and the other kids, as a way to intimidate Mum and Tony. It was from that point that Mum got into robbing banks.
Mum robbed a couple of banks in Albion Park, Kiama, and Moss Vale, a few times, and did it successfully for a time, eventually being arrested and tried for four bank robberies. It was funny to hear her talk about this long afterwards… Ring a bomb threat at one end of town, rob the bank at the other end of town. She even made, someone she was close with a kind of accessory, ‘cause one time mum robbed this bank very quickly while this friend was getting petrol or shopping, can’t remember exactly. But all of that eventually caught up with her, she was on Australia’s Most Wanted TV show, we were targeted by police for ages and then she went back to prison.
So, that's another element of proximity to crime. But that threat of violence from the organised crime group then precipitated this other set of actions robbing banks and then the other side of the bank robbing meant that our house became very much like the centre of policing in our neighbourhood, but I also think of all of Bomaderry and maybe even the Shoalhaven. I feel like it was a couple of years where this was all going on… there was a time when our phone was tapped. The cops tell you when they do that 'cause they have to in order to use it as evidence. So, there's this weird thing where you knew the phone was tapped. The phone (landline) did a little click when you picked it up, so whenever you answered the phone you’d listen for this little click to see if it was being recorded.
There were times where they'd set up roadblocks at each end of our block and stop everyone that came through. Literally anyone who was going through the street was stopped and harassed. This put pressure on the neighbourhood and on mum and Tony obviously as well. And so, my friends, by this time I was like 16 and my friends were 17 and a couple had their ‘Ps’. Their cars would get stopped and defected and stuff like that.
The cops raided the house a lot of times – in the morning, leave the place trashed, this sort of thing. I was still enrolled in school, but not really going as much as when I was younger. One time I was at home and my brother Tom rings-up from school 'cause he's sick and needs to come home. So, I walked up to pick Tom up from school and then on the walk back the cops pull-up and harass us about being out of school. Tom reacted in a way very similar to how I used to, yelling at them and telling them to fuck off, getting upset, so they put him in the back of the car, he’s like 12 or 13, they close the back door but keep me on the gutter sussing me out and I’m trying to convince them to just let us go home… This is when the phone was tapped, so I always thought the cops did it intentionally, like they knew I was going to pick Tom up from school on foot, and that we’d be walking home, and it was the Ds that did it, unmarked car, cops in suits and not uniform. I don’t know if it was intentional or just chance that they picked us up, but the environment forces you to think about these things, you know… anyway eventually they just let us go, but this sort of thing happened.
Really intense police raids were the other element to the police violence. Like the one that I found most traumatic, and there's too many times for me to remember how many times it happened. But that one with the door banging and being broken with the sledgehammer, that's the one that messed me up personally the most, and for the longest period of time in terms of paranoia and not being able to sleep and so on. But, in a way, the most intense one was another time, which was later, when I was 16. Because the bank robs had happened, mum had been at large for quite a long time but the police were getting closer to nabbing her for it. One time the cops came with this whole SWAT team of people, the Tactical Response Group, with guns and helmets and bullet-proof vests and all this crazy shit. I remember looking out the window after the familiar call from the police to open up and seeing the front yard filled with heavily armed police, like not pistols but machine guns.
They came early and brought us all into the lounge room, and then you stand there, which was the usual practice all very familiar, but then we had to walk out the front door in a line with our hands on our heads so they can secure the premises. So, Mum and Tony are at the back of the line they put us into, I was the eldest of the kids, so I had to go first, except my middle sister who would have been 10 at the time, kind of freaked out a bit and ran out the front door before we were all meant to, which was scary as well cos the yard is filled with armed cops and who knows what they’d do, but then she runs back in. Then we get marched out of the house hands on heads, to all these masked, bullet proof vested cops pointing all these guns at you, across the yard and then made to go stand on the corner of the block while they continued to secure the house. This is in the morning, we’re still kinda sleepy, but its also this big spectacle for the street. So, that was another sort of big deal and I think I was probably traumatised in some ways from that and those years.
I used to have this, as I've mentioned, a deep sort of shame about it, but also a really deep kind of rage about it. So, I really hated the police throughout all those years, even though I knew why they were there. I just hated them and hated the indignity of having people coming to your house in the way that they did. Having other junkies come around was annoying, that wasn't that enjoyable either, but some of them were super lovely and were friends. Whereas the cops are always just like cops are. So, I used to get really worked up and screaming at them and so on and then that would cause tension. I remember one time (not with the SWAT Team) telling them to ‘get fucked’ and to get out and going on and on, screaming and crying… they're trying to calm me down, but then that was not working, so the cops told Tony to tell me to shut up and he was like ‘no I'm not going to do that, he has a right to do that, you’re in his house’, that I was right to feel what I felt or whatever. Then they hit him with the phone.
Anyway, mum eventually was sentenced to 4 years in prison, 2 on the top 2 on the bottom, and served 2 years (she was sentenced the week my HSC was meant to start). She never sold out the Sydney people though, who were sort of all related to this, so that was a significant thing for various reasons. Throughout all of that sentence the government also tried to deport her. She was English, and never became a citizen or whatever, she moved out here as a teenager with her mum and dad. But because of her being a non-citizen and the crimes, there was a long period after she’d been sentenced and was in prison where there was a push for her to be deported. That never succeeded but it was a real thing we were concerned about, and my sister said that our grandfather ended up putting a lot of time into preventing that. I’m not sure what that looked like, but yeah there was all of that going on too. Mum and Tony both passed away relatively young, in their mid-50s, and both died with significant debts to the state from their earlier convictions. For example, mum would have been paying victim’s compensation for the bank robberies her whole life no matter how long she lived.
I guess all of that gives an indication of my proximity to crime.
My own participation in crime is much more small scale, nothing hectic. For example, and I only remembered this not so long ago, but me and Crow and another friend broke into a house and stole some jewellery and money, then there was just weed and drugs and just basically antagonising the police at any opportunity. Also, theft from cars, shops, bottle shops, the beer factory…
Nick: I suppose the thing that sort of follows on fairly well from that is the idea of life with and against the police and again that idea of ‘solidarity for survival’, but here solidarity against the police. So, that type of commonality of the experience of the police as an invading, occupying, repressive force and the solidarity of you and your friends, the community, or family, etc. in relation to that.
M: I can't tell if what I'm saying is obvious or not. I'm sure you're familiar with it, but it's one of those things where I don't think my neighbourhood was an area where you could avoid a political education about the police… I don't mean this in a patronising way, but I feel like sometimes for example in a political protest environment and police do terrible things and that's a penny-drop learning moment for many people about the police, and that's where a certain education around what people might have known in an abstract sense but haven't seen it before in reality, actually happens. Whereas, at a very fundamental level, this sort of ‘solidarity for survival’ against the police, life with and against the police, people where I grew up, it’s something that is so every day that, obviously you have learned it, but I don't think you ever had the opportunity to not learn it, there was no way to be subject to the illusion that the police are other than that, other than what they are. There was nowhere for the penny to drop.
Obviously, there were times when the cops might have come for DV reasons or whatever and that might have prevented or escalated the violence. I’m not saying that that never happened and that they’re not a force that was called upon by people in the neighbourhood for various reasons. You still live in this world. But I do think that in general people just didn't have a sense that you could ever trust a cop. Beyond that there would be times where you just did not engage ever and the idea that you could say ‘no’ to them is something that appears as if it's intuitive to people from neighbourhoods like mine, there is an everyday refusal. But obviously it's something that that you learn, so takes a whole range of different forms.
So, to build out from my household, Miss Green who lived next door, she was probably in her late 60s when we moved there and was probably into her 70s/80s throughout this period and in many ways, I don't think really liked us. Fair enough, it was chaos. But even Miss Green did something, like not letting the cops go in her backyard when the whole SWAT team raided, she didn't allow them to circle around our house. Or at least it was something like that, some kind of refusal to cooperate with the police when they were raiding our house one time. So, even in that small kind of instance it's like Miss Green, who as far as could tell in my thinking at the time was just like an older grandma sort of woman, lived a sort of normal life, just didn't have much money, and lived there in the neighbourhood. But in that instance, even though she probably had issues with Mum and Tony, there was still some kind of solidarity there. Or when Lorraine raised that stuff about the syringes in the park, she did that directly, it wasn’t about DOCS (Department of Community Services) and it wasn't about the police, wasn’t about the state, it was about how to do it within the neighbourhood, which is another example of that sort of thing.
It seemed like everyone had some kind of relationship to the prisons, or the cops, in one way or another. I mentioned before the care stuff particularly, that was something I and my siblings got, which was care from other households as a result of what was going on with the cop’s impact on us. And then in dumb ways too, especially as a young person just causing whatever little bits of trouble that you can. I got taken home by the cops a lot when I was 15-16 just from doing dumb shit. Shit like being drunk in public, or riding on the freight train, stealing shit and getting chased for it, or after a car accident.
I was in a car accident one time. My friend was driving, we’d been at this party and we’d had a number of drinks and said we’d go and get some food from the nearest shop which was like 10kms away. We were driving out and then we got to the end of the road about to turn onto the highway, and my friend was like ‘actually I think I'm drunk I probably shouldn't drive to get food from the shop’. So, we went to turn around and go back, but in the U-turn drove through a fence of a caravan park and then rolled the car. Then, obviously, the cops came, and I just ended up getting in an argument with one of them well really, I was just abusing them, for no good reason, cause obviously we’d been drink-driving, crashed the car, they actually weren't there to harass us. But in my brain, I couldn't separate the thing, and this cop had a shaved head, so I was calling him a fascist and a nazi, which obviously he wasn’t really happy about. So, through the argument this cop slams me into side of the car, puts me in some wrist and arm lock, and I ended up getting taken home by the cops that night too.
I’m telling this story, why..? Just to convey this sense, the end part of that story is maybe what I'm trying to get at, which is when we got home, the cops kept me locked in the car, they went up and spoke to Mum and was like ‘you gotta reel him in’ and ‘he was swearing and saying this is and saying all of that blah blah blah’. So, when I went up there, Mum was like ‘you can't keep doing this’, like not angry with me more just concerned or worried. But when I told her he had thrown me against the car, put me in a wrist lock and he was really hurting me and then Mum all of a sudden flipped it and was like ‘they can’t do that. I have to go make a complaint about the cops tomorrow’. Just this base level principle, that no, they can’t treat you like that even if you are breaking the law or being a pain in the ass.
Just the fact that cops were always around, that nobody trusted them, and that you helped each other get around them as much as you could, and when people would hide out, and the fact that hiding out wasn't a weird thing, that's another part of it. That was really clear in my house but many others too. I mentioned Sharon lived with us on and off for ages, Robin did, Dave did, quite a lot of people did, and in all different ways this at times had to do with the cops. All the way through to our own stuff, where you cause trouble then you'd run and hide in a house, and that you’d know if the cops didn't have a warrant, they couldn't come in.
The next section of the interview will move into a consideration of class composition and struggle in relationship to the criminal, informal and black economies. It will be posted in a week.