More Than A Year On From Our Black Lives Matter Marches, Is Anyone Still With Us?

We’re not done fighting, so you shouldn’t be either.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - JULY 05: A woman holds up a sign during a rally against Black Deaths in Custody in The Domain on July 05, 2020 in Sydney, Australia.The rally was organised to protest against Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody and in solidarity with the global Black Lives Matter movement. (Photo by Don Arnold/Getty Images)

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On June 2, 2020, social media became a flood of black images.

The night was dubbed “Black out Tuesday”, as people showed that they stand with, and stood for, Black Lives Matter in the wake of the murder of George Floyd.

— Content Warning: This article contains discussion of Indigenous deaths. — 

Now, in November 2021, the fierce fight the general public were putting up on social media has gone silent. The fire has burnt out. This is the issue that many Black people had from the start. We questioned how many people would be with us in a day’s time, a month’s time, a year’s time. What actions were they taking past this one-time Instagram post to actually enact change, how were they actually fighting and standing with us.

Thankfully, Black Lives Matter marches and rallies were attended by millions of people globally. Here in Australia, we marched as we demanded to know why there have been so many deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, why so many recommendations from that report have never been implemented, and why no one had ever been held accountable.

One year on, we’re still demanding the same things, but it feels like people have simply moved on.

Earlier this month two Aboriginal people, Charlene Warrior and Gordon Copeland, were reported missing, and later found dead. In both cases, the families requested for more resources to be used in the search and questioned why there was no media or widespread attention on these cases. The only people I heard and saw talking about this were also Aboriginal.

Despite the heart aching circumstances, there was near radio silence. Mr Copeland’s family have been denied the bodycam footage police recorded from the night he went missing. When Ms Warrior’s body was found, it was in a spot that was part of the initial search area, and had been there the entire time. Before she went missing her neighbour reported hearing her screams.

These are not the only Black deaths that have passed by without notice. When we marched last year, our signs held up the numbers ‘434’ — but the number has raised since then to 474. The worst part is that this isn’t even up to date: this number comes from The Guardian’s ‘Deaths Inside’ which aims to count Black deaths in custody since the royal commission. It hasn’t been updated since April, and there have been at least 12 of these deaths this year alone.

But violence against Black people is perpetrated in more ways than just killer cops. There is a massive disparity between health care for Indigenous and non-Indigenous peoples. The pain of Black people (especially Black women) being disbelieved by doctors, the assumption that Aboriginal people are faking pain in search for pain killers, police being called rather than ambulances, the gap in life expectancy, and patients being turned away and having doors shut on them when needing medical attention — something that has happened to Aboriginal COVID patients. To the systems and powers that be, our lives do not matter.

The Australian Department of Health explains that Indigenous people can be at a higher risk in any public health emergency, and yet knowing both this and how dangerous COVID-19 can be, the cries for help were met with a deafening, almost genocidal silence.

One year on, we’re still wondering and demanding the same things, but it feels like fewer people care now that it’s not trending.

In Wilcannia the elders requested a speedy response from the government regarding COVID. They explained that there were not sufficient resources in the area, and they needed a foolproof plan in place before the virus arrived on their doorsteps. It was one year later, when the community was being ravaged by COVID-19, that they finally got a response.

Other big discussions that have been happening this year surround the banning of spit hoods and the raising of the age one can be put in jail. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children make up 65 percent of children under 14 in prisons, despite being only six percent of the total child population.

These conversations are happening and we’re still fighting and trying to bring attention to these things. But the support we’re being given by people who aren’t mob is waning.

Silence Over Indigenous Deaths

It took events happening overseas for the Australian public to suddenly care about Black lives. People were outraged at a Black man’s death in the USA, but have gone silent over the deaths happening here in Australia.

In Western Australia, an Aboriginal woman was shot in the street. The police officer who shot her was put on trial for murder — it was the first time in 100 years an officer was put up for such charges in WA. It had the potential to make history, to enact change, to be everything we needed, for justice for one of the many deaths to finally be served. Unfortunately, the officer was found not guilty of both murder and manslaughter. Once again, there has been no justice and no peace.

Once again, there has been no justice and no peace.

It’s not easy to follow along with these issues. It’s mentally and emotionally exhausting. It piles up and up. So to some extent, I understand why not everyone follows along as vigilantly. The mainstream voices and outrage last year were so loud and supportive, but we knew right away it would fade out and taper off.

It shouldn’t take people sharing a video of someone being violently suffocated to death for you to care about our lives and wellbeing. It shouldn’t take a video of a Black man being murdered for people to care. Our lives matter, regardless of if violence against us is recorded or not. It shouldn’t take a trending social media hashtag for our lives to suddenly have meaning.

We need so-called Australia to worry about the Black lives here that they’re displacing and murdering.

There is an absolute privilege in being able to post one simple black tile to your Instagram and then dusting your hands off like you’ve done your part for the struggle. There is a privilege in the only time you care about Black Lives Matter is when it’s trending and when videos of violence against Black people go viral. Posting a black square on your Instagram on a Tuesday doesn’t end 250 years of racial violence.

Did these people really care? Did they do it to support us? Or simply to ease their own white guilt?

But why would people not genuinely care? The answer comes easily. We’re Black, we’re different, they don’t see themselves in us. Journalist and University of Queensland PHD candidate Amy McQuire explained it clearly recently when comparing the differences in responses to missing white women and missing Black women. When a white woman goes missing or dies, people think ‘that could have been me, that could have been my daughter’. But when the same things happen to Aboriginal women, the general public doesn’t relate — because they can’t see themselves in us.

For myself, I know that the violence perpetrated against Blak people on our own land is something that could (and does) happen to me. I’m well aware that one day it could be my family begging for the release of the CCTV footage or bodycam footage of my death. It could be me going missing with a lacklustre police response, it could be any of my siblings dying in custody, it could be the violent racism in the medical system to be the cause of my mother’s death.

We’ve been fighting and screaming that Black Lives Matter for over 250 years and will continue to do so well past 2020. Whether there are videos to spread or black tiles to post, a year on Black Lives Still Matter, and will continue to matter until the end of time. If you cared then, care now.

March now, donate now, elevate our voices now. There’s so much more to be done than slacktivism. We’re not done fighting, so you shouldn’t be either.

Bizzi Lavelle is a Wakka Wakka woman living on Quandamooka country. She is an educator, performer and writer who specialises in sociology, gender and sexuality and race-based works.

Photo Credit: Don Arnold/Getty Images