PUBLIC drinking still seems to be okay if you’re white.
Bruce Campbell, the former chair of the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee, lives near Hyde Park and is tired of seeing picnickers boozing near the kids’ playground.
Mr Campbell says he’d prefer to see a ban on public drinking scrapped since it often leads to Aboriginal people or other disadvantaged groups being targeted.
But he says while the law’s in place it should at least apply to everyone equally.
A few weeks ago Mr Campbell called police about drinkers near the park’s playground.
”The first thing the person asked me is ‘what colour are they?’,” Mr Campbell said.
And it’s not just a polite tipple in the park; on Saturday August 31 he saw another group of about 20 drinkers getting blotto and causing trouble.
After too many brews one man urinated on someone’s flower bed on Lake Street.
Mr Campbell called out, and while he got a ‘sorry, man’ the man kept urinating.
He called police at 5.10pm. Two hours later they called back and asked if the drinkers were still there.
By that time they’d wandered across the road to drunkenly tag street signs.
Vincent council’s rangers weren’t able to help; they left without talking to the drinkers, saying it wasn’t in their remit and they’d have the same chance as him of getting police down.
WA Police said it couldn’t provide statistics on the race of people stopped for public drinking, but Mr Campbell says he’s pretty certain, given the experiences of Indigenous friends, that his calls would have been handled differently if the drinkers weren’t white.
Public drinking in WA is no longer a criminal act, attracting a $200 to $2000 fine. But it can escalate to a criminal matter if the person isn’t cooperative, and this remained an issue for years after the law was taken off the criminal books: A 1996 ATSIC report said: “While public drunkenness has been decriminalised, arrests are still frequently made for drinking in a public place”.
WA Police said they take a light hand with minor street drinking: “When minor offences of this nature are complained of, or identified while on patrol, police are concerned in maintaining public order and amenity of the area. In most cases involving street or park drinking offending, a verbal warning is given and the liquor is disposed of to prevent further issues … police commonly attempt to provide assistance to the person if they are deemed vulnerable.”
Mr Campbell says even the fine is unfair, as $200 is a huge impost for a homeless or unemployed person.
Vincent mayor Emma Cole says she’s asked staff to look into the ranger’s response on August 31.
“We are getting increasing community concern over instances of anti-social behaviour in our parks,” she says, and they’re now looking at how to handle that and how they liaise with police.
by DAVID BELL