For many, the decision to attend a #BlackLivesMatter rally would have been a no-brainer. For others it would have been a struggle, but could one easily put aside one’s conscience in favour of marching?
For the more serious-minded attending such a rally where their presence would be at odds with sound medical advice and warranted political instruction … it would have been a dilemma of monumental proportion.
For Health Minister Greg Hunt it was not a dilemma:
“… Greg Hunt was expressing the considered expert medical advice he had received when he said if there is someone who is infectious in the midst of a crowd like that then it “can have a catastrophic impact”.”
Others would have seen it as a unique opportunity to protest the monumental injustices including colour of the skin they had inherited from birth, and the discrimination that is often associated with it.
Which leads me to the question: How could 432 Indigenous Australians have died while they were in police custody, yet no one was responsible? It’s not possible.
We follow those in America and say #BlackLivesMatter and that is the truth of it.
Although in Australia I think we blend our protest with other matters like respect, fairness, equality and a few words in our constitution that say our First Nation People were first among us.
Then of course comes the standard of our governance and the decline in our democracy.
Amidst all this protesting we must ask ourselves a few questions; for example, why does it take the death of an American for us to recognise our own problem?
Is it OK to protest the deaths of Aboriginal people in custody while our government and health authorities advise against protesting, warning of the possibility of a second wave of the coronavirus to hit us.
The only way you can come close to understanding this ethical dilemma is to try and understand both points of view. Here are a few of the arguments from both sides:
Against the Protests
Unsurprisingly, in this corner we have the government.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison last Thursday acknowledged during a radio interview that Australia also had problems “in this space” (Black deaths) that ineeded to be addressed, but insisted those issues were being dealt with and “we don’t need to draw equivalence here.” Adding that:
“We don’t need the divisions that we’re seeing in other countries – we need to stick together and look after each other.”
And then we have the Minister for Finance, Mathias Cormann ‘attacking’ the protesters:
“… Mathias Cormann in an interview on Sky News on Sunday launched a full-throated attack on participants of Saturday’s events in several cities because the protests proceeded in contradiction of current health advice to avoid mass gatherings.
“It’s quite irresponsible what we’ve seen there,” Cormann said. “As I think about the heartbreak of families who haven’t been able to attend funerals for their loved ones because they were doing the right thing by taking the health advice, my heart just goes out to them.”
“I mean, as they see people going recklessly to these sorts of demonstrations, that must be just awful for them to watch. I think it is incredibly selfish. It’s incredibly self-indulgent. And yes, it does impose unnecessary and unacceptable risk on to the community.”
For the Protests
Australia’s most eminent Indigenous academic Professor Marcia Langton called out the:
“… systemic inaction on Indigenous deaths in custody, using her Queen’s Birthday honour to call for urgent action.
Since the royal commission’s final report in 1991, more than 400 Aboriginal people have died in prison and the Indigenous incarceration rate is double what it was 30 years ago.
Professor Langton said she felt some of the deaths should have resulted in criminal charges.
“There have been no convictions — no convictions — of any police officer ever for killing (or assaulting) Aboriginal people.”
So, on the one hand you would have to say that the health warnings were in keeping with previous warnings, which had been obeyed and were very successful.
On the other you would have to acknowledge that 432 First Nations People have died while in the custody of police, someone was responsible, and people want to know why. There had never been a greater opportunity to protest that point.
Who can blame our Indigenous brothers and sisters (and those who support them) for raising their voices? For seizing the moment.
For those who see the point of view of the health professionals but still wish to protest during the course of a pandemic raises questions of conscience and ethics.
How can you do this while a virus is attacking everyone?
Paul Bongiorno succinctly sums up the case of both sides of the argument:
“The health risks were real, but so was the injustice and discrimination the protesters were calling out.”
For those who understand the point of view of the Indigenous Australians it raises the same questions of conscience and ethics.
Can’t you just stop killing us ask the dark skinned people?
“Ethics is only possible because we can act against our nature, based on our conscience. It stops us from simply describing what is likely to happen, and allows us to make judgements about what should happen. Of all the ways you might act, which is the best? Of all the possibilities, which one should you bring into reality?” (What is Ethics?)
My thought for the day
My ethics cannot understand my heart but I know my conscience does.
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