A week after the protests comes a demonstration of a different kind

A week after protesters were dispersed by riot police on the steps of the Shrine of Remembrance just up the road there will be a demonstration of an entirely different type.

It involves one masked man carrying not a placard but a wreath of flowers and instead of yelling slogans he will remain silent.

It will be Chief Commissioner Shane Patton who will kneel to lay the wreath at the Police Memorial, an amphitheatre about 700 metres from the Shrine, because today, September 29, is National Police Remembrance Day.

Chief Commissioner Shane Patton laying a wreath at the Victoria Police memorial on last year’s Police Remembrance Day.Credit:Eddie Jim

If it wasn’t for lockdown, hundreds of police led by police horses would march along St Kilda Road – the same route taken by riot police and police horses last week to confront anti-lockdown protesters.

On the wall are 174 names – the last are Constables Glen Humphris, Joshua Prestney, Senior Constable Kevin King and Leading Senior Constable Lynette Taylor, killed in April 2020 when they were hit by a truck after pulling over a speeding driver on the Eastern Freeway.

Official police records show they were, “Killed in the line of duty when helping to keep the community safe”.

A few days later the city glowed blue in tribute to their sacrifice. Within days there were 150,000 messages of condolence on the police Facebook page.

Some buildings in Melbourne turned blue in a tribute to the four police officers who died on the Eastern Freeway a year ago. Credit:Joe Armao

That was before many of us broke into COVID tribes where any opposing view is dismissed and the loudest voice wins.

Anti Vax and anti lockdown protestors marched on the city for the third day and were confronted by Police.Credit:Jason South

At the ugly protest at Richmond there were about 50 police who had graduated just 20 hours earlier. In their ranks would have been the Angela Taylor Dux – an award named after the young police officer killed in the 1986 Russell Street Bombing. She had been the dux of her class and was destined to be a star. If she had survived.

Constable Angela Taylor – victim of the Russell Street bombing.

Also on the wall is the name of Trevor Given, 25, killed when the police car he was driving crashed in November 1989. Trevor was transporting a medical team and a donor heart for a transplant. The surgery went on and a 53 year old man was given another 20 years of life.

There are the names of Constables Steven Tynan, 22, and Damian Eyre, 20, ambushed in Walsh Street in October 1988 and Sergeant Gary Silk, 34, and Senior Constable Rodney Miller, 35, who in October 1998 were shot dead in Cochranes Road, Moorabbin.

Those five men would have been aged in their 50s and if they had stayed in policing would now be able to retire with their maximum superannuation. If they had survived.

National Police Remembrance Day 2015 on St Kilda Road.Credit:Eddie Jim

Lynette Taylor would be retired and probably be spending the latest COVID lock-down with her husband Stuart Schulze at their Loch Sport home, planning to catch Bream on the Gippsland Lakes – if she had survived. Josh Prestney would be looking forward to his squad’s second anniversary after they graduated from the Police Academy – if he had survived.

The events of the past weeks and months where police have enforced the Chief Health Officer’s lockdown rules have clearly eroded the sense of public goodwill towards police which was shown so vividly in the aftermath of the Eastern Freeway tragedy.

In the days that followed then Chief Commissioner Graham Ashton thanked the public for the “unbelievable outpouring of support for our policing community”.

Now, many people who traditionally supported police are deeply disturbed at the sight of police firing projectiles into protesters.

Police don’t want to enforce these rules. They didn’t join to make people wear masks and order them to move on from coffee shops. There is fatigue among street cops desperate for an exit strategy that will let them police for the public, not patrol parks, provide quarantine hotel security and risk injury trying to control angry crowds.

The first name on the Police Memorial Wall is Constable Matthew Tomkin, shot by an escaped convict in December 1837. His registered number is 228. The last is Constable Josh Prestney. His registered number is 45438.

The 174 names there were all police but more than that they were individuals with different hopes and dreams.

Which brings us to the Shrine where, depending on your view, the men and women who died in wars would either have been horrified that such a sacred place was used for a protest, or would have supported it because freedom was the cause for which they sacrificed their lives.

More than 100,000 Australians gave their lives in war. Think of the packed MCG on Grand Final Day and imagine everyone there has died.

How dare those of us with either point of view try to enlist a battalion of ghosts to win a pathetic debating point? No-one has the right to speak for them.

They were drovers, bank clerks, teachers, farmers, engineers, nurses and scallywags. Each with the right to an opinion only they could express. If they had survived.

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