Black Lives Matter … In Australia Too

2 June 2020

Black Lives Matter … In Australia Too

The current protest action being taken in the United States shines a light on to the local issue of deaths in custody and the ongoing racial victimisation that Aboriginal people are subjected to here in Australia.

The New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) has consistently called for greater action on this problem, where Aboriginal people continue to be unfairly victimised and persecuted. It is racist and divisive in a nation that champions reconciliation, seemingly through words but not actions. Reconciliation, especially in this very special week for Aboriginal people, must be more than just a tokenistic gesture.

This issue is exemplified by the appalling and violent treatment of a teenage boy in Sydney’s Surry Hills yesterday by a member of the NSW Police Force. Such incidents are all too familiar and common. This incident just happened to be exposed through video footage. There are countless others that go unseen.

The footage that has emerged is sickening and demonstrates that we still have people in positions of power that continue to treat our people as second-class citizens.

We support the Police Minister in calling for a review of procedures and we also support the investigation of the incident by the Professional Standards Command. If this was a private citizen attacking another citizen in this manner, they could expect to be charged under the Criminal Code with offences of an assault nature.

We are concerned about any brutality or abuse used by anyone in authority including police officers. We acknowledge the police officer has been placed on restrictive duties and we await the outcome of the investigation. We would expect the full force of the law is brought to bear on this officer if he is found to have abused his position of power, which would send a clear message to all of the community that this sort of behavior is unacceptable and must not be tolerated.

It is just astonishing that a member of the NSW Police Force would think it was OK to conduct himself in this manner at this time in history.

NSWALC is shocked at the horrific circumstances which claimed the life of George Floyd in Minneapolis last week. On behalf of the entire Land Rights Network, we would like to express our deepest sorrow for all families impacted by deaths in custody.

It is an all too real reminder of a deeper global problem regarding imprisonment of people of colour and deaths in custody.

The over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian criminal justice system and the number of deaths in custody in this country is a persistent and unwavering concern.

It’s been more than 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but this serious issue often fails to command social or political attention in Australia.

The Royal Commission made 339 recommendations to remedy the situation, but there have been an additional 393 Indigenous deaths in custody between 1991 and 2016, according to the latest report from the Australian Institute of Criminology.

This appalling situation will not improve while the Australian community stays silent, and State and Territory authorities fail to completely implement all the Royal Commission recommendations.

NSWALC notes that domestic rallies have now been planned in honour of George Floyd. We support the right of the community to march in a peaceful, non-violent and lawful manner. Everybody has that right. Racist behaviours must be called out and stopped. We thank the broader community for their support in bringing attention to that.

Black Lives Matter, around the globe and in Australia.