On the 10th August 1987 Australia announced the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The final report and recommendations were signed on 15th April 1991. It has now been 30 years since those pages were signed and submitted for review by the government at the time. 30 years on we have lost almost 500 more people, without any new changes being brought into effect to minimise the high number of incarcerations nor the loss of lives. Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ken Wyatt has often said; “The cycle must be broken,” but still we see no changes that would prevent these deaths nor reduce the number of individuals criminalised by the justice system.
Listening to an episode of The Quicky Podcast I was shocked to learn that Australians often suggest they are not racist, yet we are one of the few countries who do not adequately track racial profiling. These services do not release information regarding the racial breakdown of their interactions with communities. 2020 saw two instances where this data was released to the public. A judge in NSW requested police provide the information to the court. The data they produced showed that individuals of African or Middle Eastern background were 2.5 times more likely to be stopped than other nationalities. WA Police released data to The Guardian under the FOI Act showing police officers were 3.2 times more likely to stop and charge a someone of Aboriginal background than automated systems such as traffic cameras.
These two cases show a clear bias towards certain races, who have obviously been targeted by police officers. Tracking this data and releasing the information to the public would go a long way to providing accountability and correcting the racially discriminatory actions perpetrated by those who’s motto is to “Serve and Protect.” Similarly, courts releasing statistics on the sentences handed down to the different nationalities would show where one race is more heavily prosecuted than other races for similar crimes.
At the time of the Royal Commission the statistics showed 14% of the population inside the correctional system were Aboriginal People. Today that figure has more than doubled. We have lobbied for a National Indigenous Target for years, and governments have committed to do this but none have provided any information regarding how these targets will be reached. Many of the Aboriginal People I know and have spoken to believe the Royal Commission made no impact on their lives or their communities. They tell me there was no point in the commission because 30 years on and there are still no clear indicators regarding what recommendations were implemented or to what level they applied (in full, part or noted). In my own opinion the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody is just another colonial document, as Marcia Langton has said about the Constitution.
Since the Royal Commission it has been revealed that all too many Aboriginal deaths in custody have resulted from a lack of duty of care. Such as the case of Ms Day in Victoria who died after being left fatally injured on the floor for three hours. Nobody has been held accountable for this neglect of duty of care. Now if this was the public sector each and every individual who had neglected their duty of care would not simply have been sacked; they would have faced criminal charges for the breach. Nonetheless, when the neglect to duty of care involves an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander Person who dies as a result of the justice system, nobody is held accountable. Not even the individuals who have been found guilty of these breaches. This to me is extremely telling, and it shows how much racial profiling occurs and is completely and utterly overlooked by the “powers that be” in this country!
Media have a great deal of responsibility for these issues. Take for instance the 11-year-old boy discussed on ABC’s The Drum on 12/4/2021. A newspaper headline showed on the episode that read; “Boys sad end to a life of trouble.” Instead of portraying him as an 11-year-old boy, media painted him as an intentional criminal: Listing a range of accounts of assault and other crimes such as burglaries that didn’t happen. At the time of his death he had a police curfew and needed to be home by 7 pm. The same night he died he had been at the Police and Community Youth Club. He took his own life that night in his bedroom. Twenty-four-years-ago he had faced racism and discrimination by the police, however an inquiry suggested it was not severe enough to have forced him to take his own life. He would be 35 if he had not been racially profiled by those who ‘serve and protect’.
Indigenous People are not innately criminal; we have something called the Lore of Obligation that obligates our people to protect regardless what it is we are protecting. This includes upholding legal requirements. However, we have faced unfair persecution at the hands of the Colonial System for 233 years. Changing the theme of these interactions should not be on mob; we are the victims in this instance. Responsibility lies with the justice system, as they are the ones who have created this narrative of criminalising the Indigenous Peoples. Perpetrators are responsible for making recompense, not the victims.
The fact that the NT Government have numerous occasions where SOLELY Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth have been in their detention centres should tell the country a lot. Instead, we are faced with racist remarks such as; “They should stop breaking the law and they won’t get arrested.” Or we have politicians like Amanda Stoker who laughed at Senator Dodson while he discussed the Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in the Senate. But when an Indigenous Person is arrested for something a non-Indigenous Person is not arrested for, then there is a clear issue in the system. More so in the racist opinions shared by Australians regarding the incarceration rates of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Nations. Yes, this shame falls upon the heads of all Aussies, whether they care to accept it or not!
On the 30th anniversary of the #RCIADIC, this Govt is refusing to take responsibility for the growing crisis in deaths in custody. My questions to multiple agencies in #estimates revealed a lack of care and co-ordination. There must be national leadership on this issue. pic.twitter.com/shA1VZ3ak9
— Patrick Dodson (@SenatorDodson) March 26, 2021
Time and again governments create new programs that will further criminalise the Indigenous Nations of these lands. The history of the police with mobs has always included a large degree of racially discriminatory people and processes. Just this year QLD instigated a new program that will see youth walk around with electronic monitoring systems, instead of providing services that will prevent those youths from committing the crimes they have been found guilty of. This Government has chosen to further criminalise individuals over providing services to support these families and prevent the criminal behaviour from being a ‘thing’ for them.
Amy Thunig discussed on The Drum that Indigenous students are excluded from formal education in the form of suspension. In QLD 25% of fixed term and permanent exclusions are Indigenous children when they represent merely 10% of the school population. In NSW 25% of short or long-term suspensions are Indigenous children, who comprise simply 8% of the NSW student population. These statistics start in kindergarten and show how quick Australia is to hyper-surveil and over-punish Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Ms Thunig went on to explain that NSW Government set up the Suspect Target Management Program, where they identified a list of individuals they thought may commit an offence. Nobody on the list had committed an offence but they suspected they would, which led the system to stop and interrogate these individuals for not committing any criminal activities. The youngest person on that list was a nine-year-old, which we all know is under the age of criminal responsibility in this country, yet the NSW Police Service still attended this nine-year-old’s home and integrated them. Indigenous People make up a total of 5.6% of the youth population in NSW, 51% of the children identified on that list were Indigenous. This is racial profiling – aka racism – on the part of the police system!
Before I go, let this fact sink in: since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody 474 people have died. That, statistically, is one person a month since the recommendations were released 30-years-ago. ONE A MONTH FOR THIRTY-YEARS! So before you claim we simply need to stop breaking laws, please think long and hard about the system you are defending in place of the lives lost!
How can Australians say human rights are high on the list of priorities in this country, when we clearly only value those rights for the colonial side of this country? Quite simply we cannot value human rights, not while we tell the Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders they deserve to die for crimes nobody else would pay with their lives for. Sadly, until Colonial Australia acknowledges this fact, they will continue to fail at equality.
I say it over and again, we are only the “Lucky Country” for Colonial Australia! We are only a first world country for the same portion of the population. Until we behave like a first world country we do not deserve the title!
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