The NSW Police have apologised to ‘78er Barbara Karpinski for ejecting her from the Sydney Cricket Ground stadium where she was watching the Mardi Gras parade on March 5.
In response to questions from the Star Observer, an NSW Police spokesperson issued the following statement on Friday: “The NSW Police Force is taking this matter very seriously and is conducting inquiries to determine why and how this incident occurred and ensure it is not repeated.”
“We apologise sincerely to the 78er who was asked to leave and to all 78ers and the LGBTIQA+ communities broadly. Our dialogue and communication with the LGBTIQA+ communities will continue to build on the solid relationship we have established together.”
The spokesperson did not say whether the result of inquiries will be shared with the community and what steps will be taken to ensure such incidents do not happen again.
‘I Was Terrified They Were Going To Arrest Me’
Barbara Karpinski. Photo: Supplied.
When Star Observer informed Karpinski of the apology, she thanked both the NSW Police and Mardi Gras CEO Albert Kruger for their swift apologies, but she said that action rather than more apologies are needed. She said that although sceptical, she remains hopeful that communication and openness are the way forward.
This is not the first time that NSW Police have apologised to Karpinski who was arrested as a schoolgirl in 1978. In 2016, NSW Police and the NSW Parliament had both apologised to ‘78ers for their violence and discrimination in 1978.
“It’s been a hard week. I have been open about what happened to me. I was terrified they were going to arrest me. I have a swollen joint on my elbow. I am grateful they did not put handcuffs on me. I complied with what I knew in my heart was so wrong. I complied out of fear. When I was a teenager, I was terrified my hands would be smashed as the police did with the fingerprinting at Central lock up in 78. Police are there to protect us. That fear, that trauma has stayed with us,” said Karpinski.
Karpinski said that she is concerned about the thought processes that led four police to decide that her anti-Putin posters with Ukrainian and Russian words for love and peace were “offensive” in a way that required her removal to be investigated and made transparent.
‘Police Got It Wrong’
NSW Police Officers at Sydney Gay And Lesbian Mardi Gras Fair Day 2022. Image: Instagram
“I might look like an offender to the police. It’s not up to them to judge me. Part of my personal healing will be knowing the truth of their thoughts, what motivated their actions. Truth heals. Taking truth to power heals too.” She said that although she has appreciated many messages of support, she recommends that people “send your truths to the Mardi gras, to the police … the world needs to hear it.”
“It’s only by sharing the details of the internal police communications that we can know why this happened. Why were these bad decisions made? To know the answer to that is the only way that better ones can be made in the future … The police have a job to keep us all safe. They need to be skilled to make better decisions. They got it wrong. I get that.
“Let my lived experience, my bad night at Mardi Gras ‘22, be a cautionary tale. The cop’s job is to prevent harm. It’s not just about me. It’s all cultures, all colours.” Ms Karpinki, who has been involved in documentary LGBTQI+ history for many years, would like her handmade posters back so that they can be used to document the event.
Apology Without Accountability Means Little
The harassment Karpinski faced has caused anger and alarm throughout the LGBTQI+ community, many of whom have either experienced police harassment or witnessed others being abused.
Many were already sceptical of links between the NSW Police and the Mardi Gras which they believe sanitise police-community relations, especially at a time when First Nations communities and other vulnerable communities continue to be abused by the police.
It is clear that the incident did not merely involve a single police officer who failed to follow procedures. The police officer who originally confiscated the poster gathered in a group with several other police before a decision was made that Karpinksi would be removed by two of them.
Karpinski was scared that she was going to be arrested and did not resist in any way. The incident might have remained hidden from the public if she had not spoken to this reporter.
‘NSW Police Must Be Held Accountable’
Another 78er, well-known community campaigner Peter Murphy who was himself extremely badly beaten up by police in what was then Darlinghurst police station in 1978, witnessed the incident. After Star Observer told him of the police apology, he commented that it was a ‘bungle’ but showed that “there is still a long way to go in changing police culture.”
Amber Loomis, a younger bisexual community organiser and researcher investigating trauma in LGBTQI+ communities, described Karpinski’s ejection from the SCG and confiscation of a peace poster as “deeply upsetting.”
“An apology means very little when we continue to see police acting violently each and every day. It’s traumatising and re-traumatising, especially when we see it happen at Mardi Gras, an event where we should be safe to not only celebrate our communities but also speak out against human rights abuses. The NSW Police and the Mardi Gras organisation itself must be held completely accountable for this.”
78ers Committee Wants Meeting With Mardi Gras And Police
Star Observer showed the statement to the Committee for 78ers. They wrote to the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras (SGLMG) requesting a meeting between themselves the SGLMG and the NSW Police “so that we are given a full explanation of all the issues not covered by NSWPFs statement.”
The letter states, “After almost a week, there is no indication in this statement of what the NSW Police officer(s) did last Saturday, why they thought they were justified in doing it and what action has (or will) be taken to prevent a recurrence. There is no indication of what disciplinary action, if any, is to be taken against these officers. If action is not to be taken, then an explanation should be provided to the community.
“The 78ers Committee, mindful of the lessons of 1978, insists that individual police officers should always be accountable for their actions, and should always be answerable to the community.”
Wendy Bacon is an Australian academic, investigative journalist and political activist who was arrested in the First Mardi Gras in 1978.