Culture

#JusticeForElijah: Why Kalgoorlie Is Protesting The Death Of A 14-Year-Old Indigenous Boy

"Unless you’ve lived an Aboriginal life – and experienced that violence – you’re in no position to pass judgement on the response to it."

On Monday Elijah Doughty was killed after his motorcycle collided with a ute near Kalgoorlie in Western Australia. Elijah was 14 years old and Indigenous. The ABC was the only outlet to initially cover the incident. But after violent protests erupted outside the Kalgoorlie Courthouse on Tuesday the incident became a national story.

Since then there have been disputes over the facts around Elijah’s death and the media has been accused of paying more attention to a broken courthouse window than the death of an Aboriginal child.

The Fight Over The Facts

The original WA Police media release on the incident stated that the motorcycle involved in the crash had been reported stolen the day before. The police also said that there was a connection between the ute involved in the crash and the owner of the stolen motorbike. The details from this point on are pretty scarce. We don’t know how the crash occurred, or really anything else.

There’s been commentary on social media from those in the area that the motorcycle Elijah was riding actually wasn’t stolen at all, but belonged to him. However the police adamantly refute this.

Complicating matters, some media outlets are reporting that Elijah was riding a scooter, not a motorbike. Other posts on social media suggest that there were a number of children involved in the incident, and the stolen vehicle was actually a scooter, not the motorbike Elijah was riding.

The specific circumstances around the incident are clearly heavily contested and there are competing and inconsistent media reports. What we do know is that the driver of the ute has been charged with manslaughter. It’s the nature of the charge that has sparked a furious response from Elijah’s family and friends.

By charging the driver of the ute with manslaughter, police are alleging that he didn’t have any intention to kill. Elijah’s grandfather told the ABC that he wants to see the charges upgraded. 

“Kids have been chased in cars for too long, nothing done about it,” he said.

#JusticeForElijah 

On Tuesday around 200 protesters gathered outside the Kalgoorlie Courthouse calling for justice and demanding these charges be upgraded. The protests soon turned violent. Cars were damaged, a courthouse window was smashed and a dozen police officers were injured. The acting police commander told the ABC that a number of racist Facebook posts had inflamed community tension, but he denied Elijah’s death had anything to do racism.

“There is nothing to suggest at all that it’s a racist issue. It’s the death of a child who happens to be Aboriginal,” Commander Grant said. Police have also praised the actions of Elijah’s family members in attempting to quell the violent protests. A photo of Elijah’s cousin acting as a shield between protesters and police has since gone viral.

A number of local Kalgoorlie Facebook groups have however been accused of inflaming racial tension and encouraging violence against members of the Indigenous community. “Name, shame and crimes Kalgoorlie” is one such group and it has 17,000 members. Comments allegedly posted in the group included threats to “mow them down”. Another post ‘joked’ about “finding out how many bodies it would take to fill mine shafts around Kalgoorlie”.

It was only after the violent protests that the rest of the Australian media picked up the story of Elijah’s death. Most of the headlines focused on the damage done to property rather than the fact a 14-year old boy had been killed.

Last night a peaceful vigil attended by about 100 people was held in the bush land where Elijah’s body was found. The incident has again highlighted the ongoing injustices felt by members of Australia’s Indigenous community. New Matilda’s Chris Graham, the former editor of the National Indigenous Timeshas written a powerful piece today on the recent history of violence towards Indigenous Australians.

Graham argued that Indigenous Australians have a right to be distrustful of police and the courts due to long history of Indigenous deaths in custody and an ongoing lack of justice. “While yesterday’s violence was not state sanctioned, this morning, you’re only reading about it because Aboriginal people fought back,” he wrote.

“Unless you’ve lived an Aboriginal life – and experienced that violence – you’re in no position to pass judgement on the response to it.”