Hawke’s Bay police are standing by the way they handled protesters at Julian Batchelor’s Stop Co-Governance meeting, after the head of Ngāti Kahungunu iwi accused them of “picking sides”.
A police spokesman confirmed on Wednesday no charges have been laid yet after police arrested two and trespassed a number of people at the Monday night event.
A vacant Hastings CBD building became an ideological battleground as protesters exchanged words with meeting attendees and Batchelor, with those not allowed into the building sparking up waiata and haka outside.
The verbal briefly turned physical, as video on social media showed the moment a woman inside the meeting threw a laptop on to the ground and then went to grab it again when Batchelor pushed her away, with Batchelor saying “don’t wreck my equipment”.
Police formed a barricade when protester numbers on Heretaunga St West began to swell to more than 100 and police and organisers agreed to end the event early due to “safety concerns”.
Ngāti Kahungunu chairman Bayden Barber said he was disappointed with the police approach to the event.
“It is clear that the conversation was not going to occur without erupting into violence and it should have been stopped earlier,” Barber said in his statement.
“I accept that the police have a role to play in enabling free speech to occur in a peaceful way. But I do not accept that the use of police resources as private security for the event is in any way in keeping with that role.”
He said the decision to remove people who disagreed with the views of Julian Bachelor made it appear the police had “picked sides” by defending the right to free speech for one group.
“Both sides were equally tense, and yet only one side was truly policed … This cannot be the way that police handle these events moving forward.”
A police spokesperson said in a statement they stood by the police decision to remove protesters from the meeting.
“Police recognise the lawful right to protest. Our role in the case of any protest is to keep the peace and ensure the safety of everyone involved,” the police spokesperson said.
“It is standard practice for police to monitor any protest activity they are aware of, and to take action if and when appropriate.
“In this case, police intervened when it became apparent there was increased tension between the two parties.”
Hawke’s Bay Today attempted to call Batchelor on Wednesday and received no response. Hawke’s Bay Today calls to Batchelor on Tuesday went unanswered.
James Pocock joined Hawke’s Bay Today in 2021 and writes breaking news and features, with a focus on environment, local government and post-cyclone issues in the region. He has a keen interest in finding the bigger picture in research and making it more accessible to audiences. He lives in Napier. email@example.com