“We want to feel safe again.”
That's the message from Wellingtonians who say they've been physically and verbally attacked by protesters who continue to occupy the capital.
Graham Bloxham runs the popular Facebook page Wellington Live Community. As the anti-Covid-19 mandate protest outside Parliament continued into its 11th day on Friday, Bloxham went to interview protest organiser Sue Grey.
He said once he completed the interview, some in the crowd decided he shouldn’t have been there and attacked him and his cameraman.
“We just wanted to show people that it is peaceful … then bang. They just yelled out ‘hold the line’. And whack. They were just all on me and they basically beat me and my cameraman to a pulp,” Bloxham alleged.
“Headlocks, punches, I got footage of it and they were really violent.”
Bloxham’s been left sore and bruised from the incident and said his camera operator was extremely shaken.
He told 1News police were nowhere to be seen while the incident took place.
“That is a riot waiting to happen and they'll go in all directions. I didn't see all the love as much as they're portraying,” he said.
“I was shaken, it was awful.”
He said he then received an apology from three of the organisers on Friday night.
“They seemed genuine, but I don’t think they’ve got control of these people at all. It seemed like a circus.”
Bloxham said he also received calls and emails from protest organisers’ lawyers, who he said seemed keen to make sure the protest was seen as peaceful.
He was not alone in reporting being on the receiving end of abuse.
Melissa Lodge has been walking past Parliament to visit her heavily pregnant friend who lives in the area.
“She’s just too afraid to go out and be around the protests. So, I’m having to help her out and get groceries.”
Almost every time she’s visited, Lodge said protesters yelled at her or called her a 'sheep'.
“Just telling me to take my mask off, that I'm brainwashed … the worst time was [when] I was walking just past the protest, and a group was kind of behind me. One of them started chanting ‘Cindy’s wh*re.’”
She described the experience as “scary”.
“I just want them to go home. I hate seeing how it’s affecting so many people.”
Lodge suffers from a gastrointestinal condition and wears a feeding tube. She said her compromised immune system meant it was important for her to wear a mask.
“If I caught Covid, it would affect me a lot more, or could be more dangerous. I force myself to wear a mask because I want to protect myself."
Numbers of protesters swelled in the capital on Saturday, but police were still taking a hands-off approach, helping to direct cars so they weren’t blockading new parts of the city.
Police Commissioner Andrew Coster told Q+A the level of force required to clear protesters from central Wellington wouldn't be acceptable to most New Zealanders.
Police felt the only way to safely resolve the ongoing occupation was de-escalation, Coster said.
He said the crowd was diverse, with a mix of peaceful protesters and a "fringe" who are making violent threats to MPs and journalists.
He said the option of police taking enforcement action would have far-reaching consequences.
“Police would have to move in, using batons, probably using tear gas, to clear that crowd off the grounds. it's likely to lead to extended confrontation,” he said.
On Thursday, Speaker Trevor Mallard asked for cross-party support to come up with an agreement to talk with protesters.
The agreement suggested dialogue with protesters, but only if they agreed to remove structures and clear the streets.
Earlier in the week, some of the groups in the protest launched a charm offensive, apologising to journalists for the abuse hurled at them from the protest group while claiming they only became “more fully aware” of it “recently”.
However, violent messages were spotted this week among the misinformation.