Edit detail for DeathsInCustody revision 21 of 21

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Editor: DonovanBaarda
Time: 2022/03/13 01:36:13 GMT+11
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-This story shows that it is perfectly legal, and apparently encouraged, for the Police to create and escalate a situation until they are sufficiently threatened to kill and claim self defence. The whole system seems designed so that Aboriginal people are entrapped into conflict with the law, and those conflicts are encouraged to escalate till shit like this happens. Isn't intentionally creating a situation that leads to someone's death pre-meditated murder? But if it is the system doing it, the system can just declare that it is OK. Everything was done according to the law, verdict: not-guilty.
This story shows that it is perfectly legal, and apparently encouraged, for the Police to create and escalate a situation until they are sufficiently threatened they can kill and claim self defence. The whole system seems designed so that Aboriginal people are entrapped into conflict with the law, and those conflicts are encouraged to escalate till shit like this happens. Isn't intentionally creating a situation that leads to someone's death pre-meditated murder? But if it is the system doing it, the system can just declare that it is OK. Everything was done according to the law, verdict: not-guilty.

Disclaimer: I wrote this in anger days after the incident occurred and it is maybe a bit hash. I've chosen to publish it unchanged as a record of how I was feeling at the time.

On Saturday 9th November 2019, a 19 year old young man was shot and killed by Alice Springs police at Yuendumu. He had ignored his parole to attend the funeral of his Uncle and best friend who was taken too soon by cancer, a youth worker with a reputation for working well with troubled teens. The Yuendumu police had already negotiated his quiet surrender after the funeral, but against their advice the Alice Springs police instead chased him from the funeral. He fled from the funeral to his home, where they burst in and shot him in his bedroom. They dragged him out of the house by his feet bleeding and took him to the police station, which was then barricaded for hours against the indigenous police officer and concerned relatives who gathered outside. They refused to let anyone see him or provide any updates while he slowly bled to death alone in a cell.

Was this intentional? Did the Alice Springs police send a hit-squad to take him out? Had he perhaps experienced or witnessed some kind of abuse while in custody that someone was at risk of facing the consequences for? Did they rush to apprehend him at a time calculated to most likely cause an escalation that might lead to an "accidental" death? Did they intentionally hold him in the police station, denying him access to any sort of assistance or witness, to wait until he died?

Or was this incompetence? Did the Alice Springs police imagine themselves in an exciting cops-and-robbers story and rush to get a quick arrest? Did they get overly excited or panic and accidentally shoot him? Did they then barricade themselves in the police station, paralyzed in fear and confusion for hours trying to figure out how to get out of this mess, while he slowly died?

In 1987, after a disproportionate number of aboriginals killed by police, a Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody produced over 330 recommendations. Its recommendations are still valid today, but very few have been implemented.

In 2016, after a scandal over the torture of minors in detention, a Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory made more than 200 recommendations, including referring incidents to police and closure of the Don Dale Youth Detention Center. Few recommendations have been implemented, no charges were laid, and Don Dale continues to operate.

In 2018 an Australian Law Reform Commission report, Pathways to Justice-Inquiry into the Incarceration Rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples produced 35 recommendations. Its recommendations have been met by silence.

Nearly every official or independent report produced related to Aboriginal people, including the 2003 Child abuse and neglect in Indigenous Australian communities, the 2007 Board of Inquiry into the Protection of Aboriginal Children from Sexual Abuse, and 2017 Uluru Statement from the Heart include mention and recommendations against excessive policing, prosecution, and incarceration that get ignored. Review after review after review of the increasingly harsh alternative policies, implemented against the recommendations, show they are not working. Every year, Aboriginal people continue to be killed by police.

Is this incompetence? Are white-fellas too stupid to follow their own good advice, and instead keep repeating and escalating the same expensive and ineffective mistakes that are killing more and more black-fellas?

Or is this intentional? Do the white-fellas in charge really just want to kill black-fellas?

Right now I'm struggling to see how this could be anything other than one of these two options.

Update

This was written a few days after the incident when the Police officer was charged.

The main Police officer in question has been charged with murder, the first time a Police officer has been charged before an inquiry. This is good; the Police need to the the message, loud and clear, that killing people is not OK, even if they are black-fellas. I suspect this was in response to the widespread protests around Australia about this incident (thank you everyone... these protests can actually trigger action).

There were initial reports that body-cam footage existed, but I'm betting this footage never gets seen. The NT Police have a history of video footage going missing, with camera's being conveniently off, or cell recordings being lost. I've heard anecdotally via contractors providing body-cam services that the NT police have their cameras turned off way more than other states.

My worry now is that this Police officer is going to be painted as "just one bad apple", and become the scapegoat for this incident. Although this officer does deserve to be punished, and must be held up as an example and warning to other cops, he is not really the problem, and I almost feel a bit sorry for him. He is a product of the Police system, and is far from the only bad cop they have. He just did what all his peers and supervisors attitudes and actions have always encouraged. Until this incident he had been held up as a model Policeman, with a record including heroic rescues of tourists. He just happens, like most other Police in the NT, to have been indoctrinated with a really bad attitude towards Aboriginals.

We cannot let the prosecution of this one Police officer be the end of it. The problem is the system, and until that is fixed more Aboriginals will die, and some (but history says not all) of those deaths may result in cops having their lives and careers destroyed for it.

Update 2022-03-12

This was written after the court-case was over. I had seen some news reporting of the case result, but to be honest, I struggled watching it and have not seen all the reporting. To me it's like watching footage of a particularly nasty accident, and I've never liked watching those. That this accident involves people I know makes it even worse.

The court-case is now over, and the Police officer has been found not guilty.

From the very beginning his defence rested on the claim that he just did exactly what he had been trained and authorised to do. By finding him not guilty this case has publicly confirmed it; the NT Police are officially trained and authorised to kill Aboriginals.

The snippets of reporting I've seen suggest that the case focused on the physical conflict, and whether the officer's actions in the heat of the moment were justified. The prosecution's case seems to have been that the first shot might have been justified, but the next two while he was pinned by the other Police officer were excessive. But in the confusion of an escalating violent conflict where guns are involved, the chance of someone dying gets pretty high. Who knows how they would react in that situation; could anyone really say they could have done better? The real problem was the whole situation should never have happened. The biggest crimes were what happened before that created the situation, and how it was handled afterwards as he died.

Kumanjayi Walker was a bit troubled. He was a product of the NT social and correctional services (the guys who brought you Don Dale), who helped make him into the paranoid (is it still paranoia if they really kill you?) and angry young man he was. He still had family and friends who tried to help him, but once you fall into that system it is really hard to get away and it keeps sucking you back in. The reason the Police came for him is he had violated his parole to go to the funeral of his best friend and relative at Yuendumu. His childhood friend was well loved by everyone and had become a social worker. Over the years had helped Kumanjayi try and get his shit together, only to be killed young by cancer. So Kumanjayi was in a particularly sad state of mind and already angry at the unfairness of the world. Having the Police try and take him away from the funeral felt even more unfair and made him even angrier.

In one piece of police body-cam footage from when the local Police approached him, he angrily threatened them with an axe and fled. The local police officer is shown speaking to his family afterwards and says "Tell him he needs to be careful, if he does that again he could get shot. We are local police and understand, but town police are different." So the local police know and understand the community well enough to handle situations like this better, but those town police are cold-blooded killers. The local police negotiated with his family that they would pick him up the next day after the funeral.

Then the cold-blooded killers arrived. The local police tried to convince them to leave it until tomorrow, but they insisted he had to be picked up immediately. Apparently town Police out-rank and can override local Police. So the situation was created, it was escalated predictably to violence, and Kumanjayi was shot 3 times. But it doesn't end there, and he wasn't dead yet.

I haven't seen any footage of Kumanjayi being dragged by the feet moaning to the Paddy Wagon like it was described to me. The local clinic was closed with no medical staff available (something that was known, and another good reason to delay or avoid a confrontation), so he was taken directly to the Police Station and presumably put in a cell where he bled out and died. Meanwhile the whole community was concerned about him, so they headed to the Police Station to find out what was happening. The Police panicked and barricaded themselves in the Station, not letting anyone in or out. They also barricaded the local Aboriginal Policeman outside, telling him to "deal with the locals" and not letting him back inside to see or help Kumanjayi. So Kumanjayi died painfully in a hated cell, surrounded by hated white Police officers, who blocked a whole community of concerned family and friends from seeing him before he died.

This story shows that it is perfectly legal, and apparently encouraged, for the Police to create and escalate a situation until they are sufficiently threatened they can kill and claim self defence. The whole system seems designed so that Aboriginal people are entrapped into conflict with the law, and those conflicts are encouraged to escalate till shit like this happens. Isn't intentionally creating a situation that leads to someone's death pre-meditated murder? But if it is the system doing it, the system can just declare that it is OK. Everything was done according to the law, verdict: not-guilty.

I've seen other Police body-cam footage of an Aboriginal man who went to the Police Station to try and sort out paying his fines, only to find he was too late, the fines had become a warrant, and they were going to lock him up. When he reacted with anger at the unfairness of it all, it escalated untill he was screaming in fear "Don't tase me, I've got a bad heart", as they tased him. That is what you get for trying to pay your fines, so why the hell would you risk trying to pay them? But dodging the Police only buys you some time, and gives them the leverage they need to come gunning for you hard later on. It's all part of the trap.

How could this be fixed? Well, there are all those highly researched reviews that are full of good advice, but in this particular case a two major things stand out that Yuendumu elder Ned Hargraves has demanded;

  1. Local Police need to be given at least the power and jurisdiction to override the town police. They know the communities better and are far better equipped to handle these kinds of situations than town police. In particular the local Indigenous Offices are well known and respected by the community and should have Respect and Authority within the Police to reflect that. Locking the Indigenous Officer out of the Police station when the shit hits the fan shows a flabbergasting level of disrespect. Ned actually demanded that town police be banned from Yuendumu, and the local Police do not need or want their "assistance".
  2. Police on local communities should not have guns. When you add guns to physical conflicts, shootings and deaths are going to happen. Remote Aboriginal Communities do not have gun problems, and violence is mostly limited to the poverty-induced domestic and alcohol related kinds. The only gun-violence that happens on remote Aboriginal Communities is caused by the Police. The regular UK Police famously do not require guns and deal with far worse criminal violence. Police should not need guns on Aboriginal Communities at all.