With over 400 Indigenous deaths in custody and not one conviction, Australia has a problem too

With over 400 Indigenous deaths in custody and not one conviction, Australia has a problem too

Photo by Johan Mouchet
Words by Kate Streader

432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody in the past 29 years alone.

America, and the world, have been in an uproar since George Floyd died as a result of excessive force while being restrained by a police officer in Minneapolis last week. Floyd’s death, which was officially declared a homicide today following an autopsy, has sparked riots across America and protests around the world.

What’s most horrific about the situation playing out in the US is that people are not responding out of shock, it’s simply the straw that broke the camel’s back.

In Australia, the music industry stood in solidarity with America’s black community today by “pausing the show” in support of the global Black Out Tuesday movement.

Spotify, Live Nation, Mushroom, Caroline, Inertia Music, MGM, Cooking Vinyl, Sony Music Australia, Warner Music, BMG, Unified Music Group and many more labels and operators ceased business as usual to focus on supporting artists, employees and relevant charities and organisations.

And while it’s important to highlight the blatantly racist and discriminatory systems and social structures in place in America, it’s equally important to recognise that Australia is in no position to point the finger.

Not only do we live in a country that debates the merit of hosting an annual celebration on a day that represents genocide and colonialism for its First People, but Australia has its own insidious history of Indigenous deaths in custody.

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that 432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded in 1991. Only two of these deaths have resulted in murder charges being laid.

According to a 2018 report by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners account for over a quarter of the total Australian prisoner population, despite the total population of Indigenous Australians aged 18 years and over sitting at approximately 2 per cent of the national population.

So where is the outrage for Australia’s black community? Why aren’t we seeing the same level of coverage from the very Australian mainstream media outlets that have been saturated with news of America’s unjust system?

Perhaps what’s unfolding in the US could be the catalyst for our own uprising. This weekend, activist collective Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance will host a rally in Melbourne’s CBD both in solidarity for George Floyd and the Minneapolis freedom fighters as well as protesting Indigenous deaths in custody in Australia.

With COVID-19 restrictions firmly in place and the virus still posing a very real risk to the health and safety of individuals, many people wanting to show their support to the Black Lives Matter movement are likely to be reluctant to rally alongside hundreds of strangers this weekend.

If you are currently unwell, don’t feel comfortable risking your health or cannot attend the rally this weekend for others reasons – or you do plan on going to the rally, but want to find other ways to contribute – there are plenty of other ways to help.

One of the easiest yet most important ways to support the Black Lives Matter movement is to educate yourself. Ignorance is not an excuse, especially in an age where we can find information on just about any topic imaginable at the touch of a button.

Readings have also compiled a list of books to help you understand and fight white supremacy, while several other independent bookstores, such as Neighbourhood Books and Brunswick Street Bookstore, have also recommended titles for those looking to educate themselves on racism, inequality and black history.

Another way to contribute is by donating, if you have the means to do so. The ABC has put together a list of families of Indigenous Australians who have died in custody who are currently raising money to cover the legal costs of their separate inquiries. Campaigns and organisations such as Pay The Rent, National Justice Project and Sisters Inside are also doing important work which needs support.

But it is our everyday actions that have the most power, so speak up when you hear or see racism because silence is a form of complicity. If someone makes a racist joke or comment, despite whether a person of colour is present or not, or if you witness a more aggressive form of discrimination, call it out. And above all, listen to Indigenous people and help amplify their voices, rather than trying to speak for them.

We should all be angry. We should all be fighting for justice, no matter the colour of our skin. Change doesn’t just happen, people make it happen and if one thing is for sure, it’s that something really needs to change, now.

The Stop Black Deaths in Custody rally is happening on Saturday June 6 from 2pm and will meet at Parliament House steps at 1 Spring Street, Melbourne CBD. For more information, visit the Facebook event page

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