The Wellington protest ended in the way it was always going to end. Violence.
The protesters will see the violence as a stand against a great tyranny. History will record it differently. The protesters will be a strange footnote in history in the same way those are who argued against polio vaccines; and as a symbol of the power of disinformation.
History will also record that, like the protest, a pandemic flared and was then tackled with much difficulty. The damage done by it will be lamented, but it will show that the vast majority of New Zealanders backed the science and their community and responded in ways that show the best of humanity.
After the violence of the day, and in the calm of the early evening, files of police walked up Molesworth St toward Police National Headquarters and groups of residents atop an apartment block balcony clapped and yelled, "Thank you". They spoke for all of us.
The police move against the protesters was clinical but, more than that, it was restrained. Many police were there without shields or armour, and where the shields were required they were seldom accompanied by batons.
Footage of the Springbok protests from 1981 show police using batons as a keen extension of their arms. Here, police used a passive force. They pushed rather than striking out. They used only the power that was necessary, without outright aggression. The outright aggression came from the other side.
In an earlier column, I suggested that the protest in Wellington would be seen as a referendum on the Police Commissioner. Say what you like about Andrew Coster, but there's no debate he's a smart man with a keen understanding of the principles of justice, the role of police, and the best way for police to engage in that role. He faced stiff criticisms from many for being too soft and for allowing the protesters too much rope, but with that rope, in the end, they hanged themselves.
Whatever the merits of a cause, the right to protest is fundamental to an open democracy, and in the 23 days the protesters enjoyed that right they gave the county a clear view of who they were and of their concerns. The results were hardly pretty.
The abuse, the threats, the utterly unhinged arguments, and the calls for Nuremberg-like trials were too numerous to be dismissed as the minority of the protest. Those voices were the protest. And they represented its demise last week when they burned tents and threw rocks.
At a human level – with all human faults and foibles – you would understand an individual cop striking out when being spat at, abused and attacked with bricks and other objects. But, overwhelmingly, police acted professionally and with restraint.
That day will be one of the most difficult police will ever face. And they emerged from it not only with their reputation intact but enhanced.
In the inquiries that will come, undoubtedly there are things that could have been done better; not just on the day but over the weeks of the protest. Perfection in a challenging and dynamic environment is seldom achieved. Whatever lessons can be learned from the police response need to be found in a detailed and open way. Faults should be thoroughly searched for, even if this is uncomfortable.
Many police officers tell me they feel constantly criticised. Be that as it may, the high scrutiny they are placed under is necessary because of the tremendous power we afford police. No apologies can be made for that.
While it is quite right for the public to be highly critical, we must also be ready to give praise. And this, when we consider the actions of police in closing down the Wellington protest, is without doubt one of those times.
It's important we acknowledge the bravery displayed by the police officers involved that day, and the fact that they successfully accomplished an incredibly challenging task. But mostly we should acknowledge the professionalism they showed throughout. That professionalism is being led and encouraged from the top of the organisation. And at the top is Commissioner Coster and his executive team.
The New Zealand police were just given a tremendous test, and as a country we should be proud of the result.
That line is a fitting way to end this column, but please excuse the indulgence of one last thought. I hope we strongly resist the temptation to change the nature of Parliament's surroundings. If the only material outcome of the protest is to fortify the grounds, then a symbol of the openness of our system will be lost. That shouldn't be the legacy of this protest.
• Dr Jarrod Gilbert is a sociologist at the University of Canterbury and the director of Independent Research Solutions.