Community Voices: imprisoned in their homes

24 September 2020 | Posted In: #136 Spring 2020, Public Housing,

In July, the Victorian government placed more than 3,000 residents of nine public housing towers in inner Melbourne under a police-enforced hard lockdown. Here, they describe the experience. 


There was no time to have air or anything, the basic human rights. No food, no nothing, they just sent us to lockdown for five days.


I just opened my eyes and the police were everywhere, and 90 percent of the people on the estate had no idea why they were here.


The police went into the community within 15 minutes. Women and children who were downstairs, once they saw [the police] they just ran into the building. They didn’t know what was happening. There were people locking their doors and saying, “Don’t ever call the police”. There was so much misinformation. There was so much fear.


I heard about the lockdown from a post on Facebook. I went downstairs just to check if this was all true and there were so many police officers there at that point. I actually spoke to one of the officers and he said the only information they had was that no-one is allowed out.


I found out on Friday afternoon when I came back from the shops. They didn’t tell me that we were going to be on lockdown, they said just, “Go downstairs, do your COVID test,” and that was it. I then saw it on the news and I went downstairs and they said, “You can’t go anywhere, just go back upstairs and stay inside.”


For two days we didn’t have any food. When they called me, I was crying, I told them no one is helping me. I am home with my child and I can’t do anything.


The first thing that came to my mind was that this was the Australian and Victorian governments showing through us that they were on track to becoming a police state.


Many countries have implemented heavy-handed or militarised lockdowns, but this was one of the most disproportionate and extreme uses of such measures I have ever seen.


I’ve seen journalists on Twitter say to us, ‘Thank God you have the Victorian government and you’re not in America’; thanking the Victorian government for their approach, when we have been treated like uncivilised animals without human rights.


The way the government conducted themselves was very, very wrong. Most of the community members in this area are people who have escaped a traumatic experience back home, so they don’t have a good understanding or acceptance of police. They escaped torture, they escaped kidnapping. The trauma that was triggered was unimaginable.


The police force coming in shocked the community, traumatised people who come from different backgrounds, migrants coming from trauma, from war-torn countries. They’ve survived civil wars and come to a safe place. Then they wake up one morning to see a whole bunch of police downstairs stopping you from going in and out.


I didn’t realise that I was “poor, hard to engage, and vulnerable” until a Victorian government official told me that me and my public housing community were these things.


You had this huge response with police everywhere, apparently to protect “vulnerable people” who are in fact actually very capable people living in a vulnerable environment — that they themselves had been asking to be fixed for a long time before the pandemic. Then, suddenly, they were treated as though they were helpless and a problem for everyone, rather than as capable people with a solution.