Saturday, November 27, 2010
Australia - The Jewish Hero Who Fought The Law, and The Law Won
Victory, Australia - There’s the strange case of the policeman accused of long-term bullying who has been on fully paid leave for two years. It seems he’s lucky enough to have a doctor willing to declare his ‘‘patient’’ unfit to face questions about the alleged offences. We hope the (alleged) bully’s victims are being looked after nearly as well.
Then there is the case of the fortunate Leading Senior Constable Terrence Moore. He used to be a plain senior constable, but has been promoted since - or despite - being revealed as the driver of a minibus full of louts who assaulted a man for objecting to their racist abuse. Promoted, in fact, despite being the subject of an internal inquiry by the force’s ethical standards unit. He, too, seems lucky.
Either the police force is an extraordinarily forgiving employer - or the police union is too tough to mess with. Like the 250-kilogram pet gorilla in the old joke, it sits anywhere it bloody well wants to and gets called ‘‘Sir’‘: the sort of ‘‘pet’’ that makes senior police and their political masters nervous, especially before elections.
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But Menachem Vorchheimer is neither a politician nor a senior policeman and he’s not nervous - of the police union, the chief commissioner’s office or the government, it seems.
Vorchheimer hit the news in the spring of 2006, when the then off-duty Constable Moore was driving a minibus full of country footballers home from Caulfield races through East St Kilda towards the road to Geelong. The constable was not subsequently breathalysed - so he gets the benefit of any doubt about that - but being more sober than his passengers didn’t help him to stop them from racially abusing Jewish people walking home from weekly worship.
Our heroes, from Ocean Grove footy club, were mostly young and mostly drunk, which explains some of their tasteless and offensive behaviour but does not excuse it - especially when it turned violent.
One genius yelled an obscene sexual suggestion to a Jewish mother of five. Another wit mimed machinegun fire as his mates jeered ‘‘Go the Nazis’’ and ‘‘F… the Jews’‘.
But, being almost as full as the bus was, the footballers made a couple of tactical mistakes. One was to yell insults just before the bus stopped at a red light. The other was to pick on someone who would fight back - the aforesaid Menachem Vorchheimer, who was walking his two small children home from the nearby synagogue.
Incensed by the abuse, Vorchheimer ran to the bus driver’s door and demanded to know who was in charge.
The driver (he says) was surly and refused to identify himself, the group, or anyone in it. It might have ended there but a passenger snatched Vorchheimer’s hat and yarmulke (religious skull cap) through an open window.
A passing motorist who saw this blocked the bus by parking his car in front of it. The bus driver wasn’t happy. In fact, he allegedly tried to reverse and drive off. What might be called ‘‘doing a runner’‘. One of the footballers tossed Vorchheimer’s felt hat on to the ground but they still had his skull cap. When he demanded it back, someone in the bus punched him in the face, giving him a black eye. It was a mistake. Vorchheimer promptly sat in front of the bus.
Meanwhile, passers-by gathered around. Despite the driver’s demands not to call the police, someone did.
Three cars came from St Kilda police station. The officers soon learnt an inconvenient truth: the driver was an off-duty ‘‘member’‘. Not that anyone was shouting it from the rooftops. In fact, if a reporter hadn’t dug it up days later, maybe no one outside ‘‘the job’’ would ever have known.
The policewoman taking notes recorded an interesting fact about her off-duty colleague’s actions, later recorded in a carefully worded statement. When Vorchheimer said that whoever punched him was wearing a pink tie, Moore got on to the bus and spoke to his passengers and within seconds all of them removed their ties. It was then impossible for Vorchheimer to clearly identify his attacker.
The bus was blocking traffic, no one was volunteering information and, in any case, statements from intoxicated people do not fly in court, so the police allowed the culprits to leave. One policeman gave Vorchheimer his telephone number and assured him ‘‘justice would be done’‘.
Since then, Vorchheimer and his legal advisers have tried to make sure that happened. Three footballers were subsequently fined for offensive language but none was found for the assault. Worse, he says, he didn’t get a sincere apology - except from AFL boss Andrew Demetriou, who made one on behalf of the football community in a way that made the Ocean Grove club look flatfooted and ungracious, at best.
As Vorchheimer sees it, he didn’t get much joy from the police hierarchy, either. After a barrister advised him to study relevant law and police regulations, he concluded that Senior Constable Terry Moore had failed his sworn duty to uphold the law.
Not only had Moore failed to prevent his passengers from committing the original offences but he was suspected of tipping off an assault suspect to remove his tie to confuse detection. And he had tried to drive off after asking witnesses not to call the police.
But when Vorchheimer pressed these points with Deputy Commissioner Kieran Walshe, the meeting ended abruptly with Walshe insisting that Moore would not be suspended.
The top cop was as good as his word.
Early this year, a truck sideswiped a car on the Western Ring Road, spinning into a barrier and back on to the freeway, where oncoming traffic narrowly avoided it. The driver, a 25-year-old woman, was lucky to survive the ordeal. As her battered car spun to a halt, she saw the truck slow down, then speed off. She didn’t get its registration number.
Police appealed for witnesses but none came forward. One policeman from the Brimbank Traffic Management Unit was so concerned he even spoke to a local newspaper about it.
“It is an offence to not stop at an accident or render assistance if someone was injured,” the policeman said. “In a lot of instances trucks don’t know they have hit a car, but he would have known. It is disappointing he didn’t stop.’‘
The speaker? None other than Terry Moore, basking in his promotion to leading senior constable. A policeman’s lot can be a happy one, after all.
Or, to quote another lyric, ‘‘You don’t get me, I’m part of the union.’’