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WAIT WHAT: Australian police department releases composite photo of wanted suspect wearing face mask

To help track the person down, they released a digital composite image of a person in a medical face mask and sunglasses. Other than messy hair and a light skin tone, there are absolutely no identifying characteristics.
Libby Emmons Brooklyn, NY

Police in Victoria, Australia, are apparently looking for a suspect in connection with threats against a woman last week. To help track the person down, they released a digital composite image of a person in a medical face mask and sunglasses. Other than messy hair and a light skin tone, there are absolutely no identifying characteristics.

The Victoria police force has been roundly criticized worldwide for roughing up old people for not masking or socially distancing, arresting a pregnant woman, and massive police overreach. The province of Victoria has been called a "police state."

On Thursday, it was reported that police halted the search for a missing, 14-year-old autistic boy who didn't come home from his daily way, over fears of COVID-19 transmission. The boy was found dead.

Victoria police refused the public's help, saying that if people came out to help find the boy, they would be risking violation of the ruled that barred people from "traveling more than five kilometers from their homes."

"In line with coronavirus restrictions, at this stage we do not require any assistance from the public," police posted to Facebook.

While officers are arresting anti-lockdown protestors, police have also bowed to Black Lives Matter protests earlier in the pandemic, and reportedly did not make arrests due to face masks and social distancing restrictions.

The police force there has been authorized to enforce COVID-inspired restrictions such as wearing face masks, observing social distancing, not gathering, and not leaving home except during specific times and for a specific list of reasons. Their methods have been called out by Human Rights Watch, who said that the practices employed are "abusive" and "raise concerns about their commitment to upholding human rights."

Premier Daniel Andrews imposed curfews, in order to give law enforcement "the easiest set of rules to enforce," stating that the curfews were "not about human rights, but rather a matter of human life."

A new bill is coming up in Victoria's lower house which would "expand the authority to detain people during the pandemic crisis."

Videos that have surfaced from Australia have been disconcerting. A pregnant mom was arrested in her home, in her pajamas, in front of her kids, in Ballarat for organizing a socially distanced protest in Ballarat against the severe lockdown measures. The police have since said that arrested a woman, handcuffing her, and taking her from her home for posting something to Facebook was a proportionate response.

They threatened old women who were doing nothing but sitting on a park bench.

Another woman was reportedly "choked out" by police for not masking. A construction worker who was riding his bike to work was tackled off of that bike by officers who were concerned that he was not carrying the appropriate papers to authorize him being out of his home. In his defense, Korey Penny said he was carrying the correct authorization papers at the time, and was allowed to be outside of his home.

A professor with cerebral palsy and her elderly mother were not permitted to sit on a bench and rest, but were made to "move along." Katy Barnett, the professor, said that "the police came up and said, 'You have to move on, you're not allowed to stop walking.'" She said that the officers said "You need to keep walking and head back to your house."

Fines issued for breaking restrictions have resulted in a nearly US$2 million windfall for the province. The government, however, is planning to enact more restrictions and not less. The COVID-19 Ombibus Emergency Measure and Other Acts Amendment Bill 2020 was passed by the lower house in Victoria on Sept. 18.

It extends the powers of law enforcement to restrict movements, and allows officers to "preemptively detain people who test positive for the virus that causes Covid-19 and who are 'likely to refuse or fail to comply with the direction,'" according to Human Rights Watch.

Retired judges formed together with prominent attorneys to write a letter in opposition to these enforcement rules, saying that the proposed laws are "unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse."

Heavy-handed police tactics have been protested by Australians, and led to their arrests. However, given the police's new digital composite system, it is unlikely that any of their suspects will be recognized by the public at large.

Australia as a whole has seen less than 900 deaths from COVID-19, and of the 27,000 cases that nation has caught, over 24,000 have recovered. Victoria has the highest number of deaths, at 781.

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Libby Emmons
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