A local youth advocate has pleaded for the community to work with police to address the issues of drugs and violence on our streets, after attending the public hearing into the violent arrest of a disturbed, drug-affected youth in January.
Nicqui Yazdi penned the impassioned call after attending the first two days of the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission’s hearing into the 2am arrest, in which a 16-year-old youth with aspergers was capsicum-sprayed, tasered and repeatedly struck with batons while being restrained by four officers.
‘In the coming months we will hold a public forum in Byron to learn the outcomes of this LECC hearing, but we will also hold a forum to look at actions to take from here, to address all of the problems that Byron has,’ said Ms Yazdi, who ran a crowdfunding campaign so that she and a local youth could attend the Sydney hearing.
‘We need to make this community a safer place for our local youth and our local people, but also for the visitors who come here, even if they are a major part of the problem.’
‘Because among those visitors are boys like this 16-year-old and his family, who love Byron, but they are now scarred over a terrible and tragic indecent that seems to be no one’s fault, except the culture of the party-town image of Byron, where Gold Coast young people have given drugs to a boy with Aspergers, that led to one of the most terrible things that has ever befallen our community, our local police, and this holidaying family.’
The hearing has been told that the 16 year old boy was holidaying with his family in Byron and had gone for a walk after dinner.
‘His parents saw no reason for him not to, and he went off and was in constant contact with them until around midnight, when he no longer answered his phone, so at around 1am his mother called the police to say that her son was missing,’ Ms Yazdi said.
‘During those few hours, this 16-year-old has been given two tabs of acid by a group of young people who told him they were from the Gold Coast. He had no idea what acid was and became increasingly agitated and overheated which was why he took off his clothes.’
The hearing has heard that when police arrived they were immediately concerned that someone would get hurt.
The youth was allegedly pacing up and down and shouting expletives at the sky.
‘We need to take a step back and look at what has happened to Byron police recently,’ Ms Yazdi says.
‘They have faced ever-increasing issues with drug-fuelled revellers, and in just the last few months a few incidents have led them to attempt to introduce new measures to protect themselves from the high number of injuries they are receiving attending these sorts of incidents.
‘On Christmas Day at the lighthouse they had a scene unfold that must have been horrific for them, a naked drug-fuelled man dragged a police officer out of a police vehicle and then he hurled himself into the windscreen of the car, smashing it. He was almost impossible to contain.
She said the police involved in the incident were ‘not in good shape’.
‘They are devastated and clearly remorseful over what happened. They are not bad men, they are men who have chosen to give their work lives to protecting our community and trying to keep the peace in what is far from a peaceful place any longer. I too feel deep distress for these men and their families, some of their wives are here, a sister, a father and they are all sitting through something I am sure they never thought would happen to them.’
‘No one is sitting here casting blame, even the family of this boy agree that what has happened in this incident is beyond any one person’s blame, it is a situation that has arisen due to abnormal circumstances and all the family want to see, is that yes, justice is served, but that changes are made to ensure that police have better training, so that nothing like this happens to another child like their son.’
Ms Yazdi said the family hoped to bring their boy back to Byron in the near future, so that he would heal from the incident.
She said the family also wanted ‘to help heal Byron too and plan that when he is ready, their son will come and speak with the community about what happened to him’.
Ms Yazdi said it was now up to the Commission to determine whether the officers had used excessive force, and whether they had acted with appropriate care when the boy was later being held at the police station.
‘What I have learned is that there is nothing black and white about this incident, and there will be no winners from this LECC hearing,’ she said.
‘I have been asking for many years for better relationships between the police and our local youth and I am determined to make that happen, as are the local police. We do intend to work together to create a safer environment for police and the community as a whole, but this is something we all need to work together on.
‘Byron Bay is drowning under the tide of increasing tourism numbers, increasing drug and alcohol problems, and increasing violence. This is not just a police problem, it is a community problem and the way forward is a long road, but one we must all travel together.’