Police criticise ‘disgraceful’ NZ protesters after early clash

Police at the NZ Parliament today
A car hurtled towards police officers at the Parliament protest today, the driver was arrested and three police officers were hospitalised after being hit with what they described as a "stinging substance". Image: RNZ

By Nick Truebridge, RNZ Checkpoint reporter

Police leaders condemned the behaviour by protesters outside New Zealand’s Parliament in the capital Wellington today as “absolutely disgraceful”.

The confrontation between police and protesters began early on Tuesday morning and escalated when a car hurtled towards officers.

Three police officers were hospitalised after being hit with what they described as a “stinging substance”.

But protesters in the camp insist their stand remains peaceful, reiterating they will be going nowhere until covid-19 vaccine mandates are dropped.

Despite the claim the protest is “peaceful”, Wellington Free Ambulance announced it has made the “difficult decision” to no longer enter the protest area at Parliament.

It said the decision was made to prioritise the safety of paramedics, after the white Honda drove at police.

“The behaviour of a certain group within the protests community is absolutely disgraceful,” said Police Assistant Commissioner Richard Chambers.

Faeces thrown at police
In a repeat of Monday’s conflict, officers had faeces thrown at them. The stinging substance that was thrown at police has not been identified.

“We are working very, very hard to reduce the impact of the protest on the community here in Wellington, and to be met with the resistance we saw this morning is very disappointing for everybody,” Chambers said.

However, many still camped at Parliament on the 15th day of the protest are insisting they come in peace.

“This is a lovely community,” one woman told Checkpoint. “I’ve heard children say ‘I want to live here’.”

Flax hats at a gazebo
Leslie was weaving flax hats at a gazebo on the outskirts of the occupation. She said she felt the pull to go to Wellington after watching the protest on TV and after losing her job of seven years as a cook.

“I didn’t only lose my job, I lost my house… the house was part of my job.”

Another protester, Jacob, said the mandates meant he could not keep his job, and he was facing losing his house.

“I’ve been a caregiver working with men living with disabilities. And now since mandates, I haven’t been able to work with these clients, even though it’s one on one and they would actually want to have that continuity.”

Aucklander Bryan told Checkpoint he had been at the protest since day one and had been at the front of the line with his son in clashes with police, which he described as “amazing”.

Year 10 student Libby was also at the protest, off school and with her family.

“My brother can’t play sports. I can’t play sports. All my friends — one of my friends, she’s a really good football player and she’s been denied, she can’t play in her club teams and she’s like, really good, like she could go nationals, worldwide if she wanted to.”

The fact is that the government has not mandated that children must be vaccinated to participate in school or extracurricular activities. They are decisions made independently by schools and clubs.

Underbelly of undesirable, illegal, activity
While the atmosphere appears friendly on the ground at the protest, police say they are seeing something quite different.

Assistant Commissioner Chambers said there was an underbelly of undesirable, illegal, activity.

“There has been a suggestion that within the protest area down there, there may be sexual assaults.

“We are the only agency who can investigate sexual assaults and if anyone would like to come forward to us to talk about what might have occurred to them then please do come forward and we will work with you as best we can.”

Some protesters agree there are small, negative elements that need cleaning up, while others say the protest message must be refined.

“We need to be able to put our egos aside and be able to put our agendas aside and come together,” one protester told Checkpoint.

Mayor in high level talks
Wellington Mayor Andy Foster told Checkpoint he was in high level talks regarding the Parliament protest but would not detail who he was talking to.

Foster said he was also talking with government and police regularly.

“We are looking to achieve the same thing which is trying to get as quick as possible, as safe as possible, resolution of this protest so that we can get our streets back and people can go about doing their normal daily business.”

He said police had made “good progress” today with containing the spread of the protest, but things at the protest were not in an “acceptable position” yet.

On people losing their jobs because of the mandate, Foster said “there had to be a way through this”.

“I think the government has been fairly clear that it won’t remove mandates at this stage, but I think at least if there can be a clear pathway that might be enough for some people.

“And maybe the kind of thing you might want to think about is if … people are on sick leave, that kind of thing, just allow that to be extended so that the job is not actually lost.”

Foster said Wellington City Council was putting together a pandemic response package for local businesses, including rates deferral, reduced parking costs, and reducing council fees and charges for businesses particularly in hospitality.

Mixed messages aside, one thing that appeared consistent among the masses — with a pre-school, a vegetable garden and even a tattoo parlour — they are in it for the long haul.

This article is republished under a community partnership agreement with RNZ.

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