|Wellington, New Zealand : repression against a “reclaim the building” action|
Press Release [May 3 2002 : aotearoa / new zealand : wellington]
The WCC-owned building formerly known as Stagecraft Theatre was renamed the Te Aro Community Centre when it was peacefully occupied on Wednesday 1st May at about 5.30 pm. Over 70 people attended a Reclaim The Building party and gig in the community centre that evening. Performers were DJ Imon Star and anarcho-punk bands Hell Fuckin Rumble and Dead Vicious.
Around 7 pm security guards, who had not attempted to obstruct the occupation, issued a trespass warning which was ignored by most of the occupants. Two police officers turned up about half an hour later and issued a five-minute warning. After they left, the front door was barricaded by occupiers and some chained themselves to parts of the building.
The five minutes stretched to about 40 minutes and no police reinforcements arrived. After lengthy negotiation with the two police officers over whether they should be allowed in through a window or the front door, they were admitted via the door and told all occupants that they could remain in the building until 9 am on Thursday 2 May. This was conveyed as a decision of the city council.
The party continued after this interruption and some people stayed overnight. Others left and returned next morning before 9 am. Shortly after 10 am a goon squad of 20 officers, dressed in full riot gear with long batons, helmets, face masks and riot shields, effected a forced entry after a front window on the ground floor had been smashed in. They were later joined by acting inspector Paul Berry.
At first the riot squad adopted aggressive stances with batons extended, as if expecting to be attacked, while some of them searched the upper and ground floor of the building. This took a long time because of the numerous hiding places in the building. A large trapdoor in the main room was lifted and the hole searched. This required a ladder and took 10-15 minutes. Acting inspector Berry offered some occupants the opportunity to leave. Three or four people did so. A city council lackey was brought in to issue trespass warnings. Most of the occupants had handcuffed themselves to parts of the building and were in the main room. One person handcuffed himself to the roof. All were arrested in turn and their chains were cut with bolt-cutters. They were handcuffed and taken outside singly. Eight people were arrested, three women and five men, and charged with wilful trespass. They were taken to Central Police Station at about 11.30 am and processed. The last one was released at about 3.30 pm.
Publicity was extensive and one of those arrested was speaking to the media by cell phone before and after the police break-in and up to the time of being arrested. The occupation and arrests featured on lunchtime television news and the 6 pm TV One news, as well as on RadioActive, National Radio (up to and including the 5 pm news) and as a front-page item (with picture) in the Evening Post (the picture was updated in the second edition). E. Post billboards were about the bypass protests and arrests.
Those arrested have been charged to appear next Wednesday morning 8 May at 8.30 am in the District Court. They were also issued with trespass notices warning them to stay away from named premises for two years or face a fine or imprisonment. The properties/land named were 1-3, 2-4, 5,6,8,13 Tonks Ave, 274 Cuba Street and 13,15,17-19 Kensington Street.
All windows in the Te Aro Community Centre, including upper story windows, have been boarded up and locks put on the front door. The place now resembles a tomb and is likely to remain so for months and probably years while Transit NZ and the city council continue their futile bid to push through the Te Aro ‘bypass’ project.
The Wellington City Council used to be an organisation focused on service to the people living in the capital. It has become a monetarist corporation supported by a bureacracy whose main focus is council business and the collection of rates. Services have been largely contracted out.
Many councillors share this antisocial view of the people and community they are supposed to serve. Every three years they cynically attempt to get support from voters to continue as councillors, but less than 40 per cent of those eligible to vote actually do so. The current mayor was elected with about 20 per cent of the total vote, and thus is supported by about 10 per cent of the city’s adult population.
The Te Aro Community Centre in Tonks Avenue is owned by the city council and was bought with money derived from the citizens. Legally it belongs to the council but morally it is the people’s. Therefore occupying the building was legitimate, particularly as the aim was to restore a neglected building and make use of it after it was vacated by the Stagecraft Theatre Company at the beginning of the year.
These and other points will be made in any subsquent court proceedings, in defence of the occupation of the Te Aro Community Centre.
For more info phone Mark on PH3856728