Politics

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?

Indigenous death in custody

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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:

Justice for Walker

Justice for Tanya Day

First Nations Deaths in Custody Watch

You can donate to:

Sisters Inside

Gumbaynggiirr Tent Embassy

Justice for David Dungay Junior

Free Her

Aboriginal focussed pages that you can support:

‪@NITV

‪@ABCIndigenous

‪@IndigenousX

‪@BlakBusiness

Blackfulla Revolution

Black Anarchist

Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance – WAR

Sovereign Union

Archival Decolonist

FISTT

Stop Black Deaths in Custody Australia

Individual Aboriginal activists who post about Aboriginal issues:

Beautifuldeadly Decolonisation

AngryBlakWoman

Wrong Kind of Black

Audacious Aboriginal

Amy McGuire

Hayden Moon

Australian Indigenous Politics

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

Why Warriors Lie Down And Die by Richard Trudgen.


Hayden is a Wiradjuri Brotherboy who acts as a representative for the Transgender, Disabled and Aboriginal communities.