I will not comment or opine on the Grand Jury decision regarding Darren Wilson and Ferguson because it is not my place to do so. I can and do however support the folks in Ferguson who are standing up to be heard in the aftermath of this terrible tragedy and silently stand in solidarity with them.
What I can and will do is talk about our own black people who have died and continue to die whilst in police ‘protection’. 1400 black people have died in custody since 1980. Before 1980 I don’t think they even bothered to keep records, but I’m guessing it was a whole lot more.
When these figures became so high, and tensions started to mount, the government decided to hold a royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. The commission investigated 99 cases from the 1st of January 1980 to the 31st May 1989. The conclusion was that the 99 deaths in this period were not caused by police violence. In fact part of the ruling states – 23 of the deaths were from external trauma, especially head injuries. Make of that what you will.
399 recommendations were handed down at the end of the royal commission, one of them being recommendation 161. Which states – Police and prison officers should seek medical attention immediately if any doubt arises as to a detainees condition.
Two Aboriginal people come to mind when I look at this recommendation. The first being Mulrunji, the second being Miss Dhu. Both urgently in need of medical attention they should have received which may have saved their lives. But they didn’t receive any medical attention, despite the fact both were gravely ill and prison staff being asked repeatedly to get medical help for them both.
Approximately one Aboriginal a month dies in prison, but this statistic is rising, and it is rising fast. Even excluding deaths by natural causes and deaths from people willingly taking their own lives, a gaping hole still exists, and this hole I believe is filled by protection officer violence and/or negligence.
Two of the other recommendations handed down in the report were 87. Arrest people only when no other way exists for dealing with a problem & 92. Imprisonment should be utilised only as a sanction of last resort. I do not believe for one second that either of these recommendations are being followed, when our jails are filled with our youth, our mothers, our grandmothers, aunties, uncles, fathers, brothers, sisters, cousins, grandfathers and nephews and nieces for insanely minor offences. I believe the term currently being used is ‘racking and stacking’.
The question needs to be asked, what was the purpose of the royal commission if not to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody? Because if that was the case, then it has failed dismally. I call for retraining of all corrective services staff and police, to follow the guidelines set forth by the royal commission because this cannot go on.
And I must mention Trent from First Contact on SBS, a law enforcement officer who seemed to hold such disdain for Aboriginal people at the start of the series. If his attitudes are a reflection of most law enforcement officers then I now see why we are treated like animals. I was absolutely disgusted that this man had any right to engage with Aboriginal people with the views he held. I was more than disgusted, I was enraged. Cultural awareness is a must across all spectrums of governmental agencies. Especially law enforcement.
Governments across Australia have failed. They have failed in following all of the recommendations handed down by the royal commission and no one in power seems to care. The deaths of our people while in custody barely make the news on television, contrast that with what’s happening in Ferguson right now and I can only shake my head. What is wrong with this country when a black person across the ocean is more important than a dead black person right here on our doorsteps.
As an Aboriginal mother I have sat my children down and had the talk with them, on how to behave when they are stopped by the police. How to act subservient. How to avert their eyes. How to speak clearly and concisely. How not to provoke the police in any situation which may land them in lock up. Because as an Aboriginal parent I know one thing for sure, sometimes when our children go to jail, they come home in coffins.