Australia Must Stop Turning A Blind Eye To Our Own Black Deaths
How can we as a nation condemn the US, when the same acts of racism are happening right here?
This article was originally published in 2020, shortly after the murder of George Floyd. Almost a year later, and former cop Derek Chauvin has been found guilty of that murder. This article is still relevant.
In the wake of the tragic and unlawful murder of George Floyd by police in the USA, my social media has been flooded with an overwhelming amount of people sharing news about his death.
As the Black Lives Matter protests continue to rage in America, well-meaning Australians have engaged with the struggle, and tried to support the BLM movement through signal-boosting and donations online.
George Floyd’s death was horrible, and I absolutely agree that we should be outraged by it — but the response also saddens me as an Aboriginal person.
So, let me explain: Many people on this continent, so called “Australia”, are outraged over the death of George Floyd. But, never have I seen them offer the same amount of outrage over the deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on our own continent.
This is what I find issue with.
The fact is, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are being killed here also, to this day. It’s ongoing. It hasn’t stopped.
It's really telling to see how many whites learn about racism and white supremacy from overseas rather than here in this country.
— Amy McQuire (@amymcquire) May 28, 2020
And while many white Australians might think that we have the moral high-ground over here on this continent — they’re wrong. We don’t. The violence toward Black folk in the US is happening here also. The deaths of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People are just as violent, just as wrong and just as, if not more, prevalent.
Police Brutality in the US is horrific, with Black Americans 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. It’s shocking and upsetting to see this and to hear of the violent and unlawful deaths of Black folk in the US. However, we must remember that police brutality is ongoing here, in our country, as well.
We are no better.
A report by the Australian Human Rights Commission in 1991 found that Aboriginal people were 16.5 times more likely to die in custody than white Australians. We could not make it to two weeks into 2020 without an Aboriginal woman being killed in custody.
From 2008 to 2018..
Indigenous imprisonment rate almost DOUBLED pic.twitter.com/hkRPD8cFbF
— Rafael Epstein (@Raf_Epstein) June 1, 2020
This came less than a month after a young Wilpiri man, Kumanjayi Walker, was shot and killed by police in Yuendumu while sleeping in his bed in his own home.
Part of the outrage over George Floyd’s death is in relation to the specifically violent way he was murdered. Australians are outraged, but in their outrage they forget that the same thing has happened here. Aboriginal deaths in custody are just as violent. David Dungay, an Aboriginal man said the words “I can’t breathe” 12 times before he died while he was restrained by five prison guards in an Australian jail.
And these violent deaths of Aboriginal people aren’t just happening in prisons, or at the hands of police. This is important to note because many Australians are also commenting on street violence toward Black folk in the US. This is also happening in Australia to Aboriginal people. As recently as last month, an 18-year-old pregnant Aboriginal woman was found dead in a wheelie bin.
400 deaths since the end of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in police custody.
Not a single conviction.
— Sally Rugg (@sallyrugg) May 30, 2020
In 1991 there was a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Since then, over 425 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in state custody. This is a rate of 15 deaths per year and of more than one death per month for nearly three decades.
All of these deaths were preventable and many of these incarcerations were unnecessary and racially motivated.
Tanya Day was arrested and then incarcerated for public drunkenness. She fell asleep on a train with her legs allegedly blocking the aisle — she died in custody. The crime: sleeping, the punishment: death.
If white people were dying in custody or violently on the street at the same rate as First Nations people there’d be public outrage, something would be done… but when it’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, all we get is silence.
This is not normal, and this is not okay. This violence is continuing and by ignoring it, white Australians are complicit in it.
#Blacklivesmatter Australia, say their names✊🏾
Mark Mason Snr
David Dungay Jnr
— Queen Khadija Gbla ✊🏾👸🏾🇸🇱 (@KhadijaGbla) May 30, 2020
While white Australians are condemning the US for their treatment of Black people they are, either willingly or ignorantly, turning a blind eye to the same thing happening here. White Australians can’t condemn one continent when their own continent is committing the same acts.
First Nations people of this continent have, for years, been trying to gain the attention of the majority. We have been trying to be listened to… but all we get is silence. How can we as a nation condemn the US, when the same acts of racism are happening right here?
Is it because if white Australians show concern about local issues, they might realise that they are complicit with an oppressive unfair system?
Because if you as a white person don’t engage then yes, you are complicit. You are complicit in the violence toward our community if you don’t speak out against that violence. Silence is complacency and complacency is, in a way, engaging in responsibility for the violence against us.
You can’t be silent during this, you have to stand up, and you have to pay attention.
David Dungay said “I can’t breath” 20 times before he was killed in custody by prison guards. His mum so far raised 4k since 2018 to help her fight for justice. Let’s help her get to 10k. This happens in your backyard Australia don’t turn a blind eye. https://t.co/2PKwU0Ak1E
— Meriki Onus (@MerikiKO) May 30, 2020
You have to understand that what is happening in the US is happening here too, and it’s been happening for decades and it continues to happen today. This is not “just happening over there”, it’s an Australian issue too.
While people are rioting over Black deaths in the US we need that same energy over here — we need to protest against Aboriginal deaths.
First Nations people need our allies to be just that. Be allies. Not performative allies, real allies. Stand up, be vocal, do something. You can’t condemn one nation without taking responsibility for your own.
If you’re wondering how you can make a difference, here are some current campaigns that you can follow:
You can donate to:
Aboriginal focussed pages that you can support:
Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance – WAR
Stop Black Deaths in Custody Australia
Individual Aboriginal activists who post about Aboriginal issues:
And you should also educate yourself on the experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander folk with police:
Blood on the Wattle: Massacres and Maltreatment of Aboriginal Australians by R. Bruce Elder
Hayden advocates for the Transgender, Disabled and First Nations communities through his roles in various activist groups and organisations. He is also a PhD candidate at the University of Sydney.