"In all Australian legal history, no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal person's death in custody."
It was a fairly wild edition of the ABC’s Q&A last night, with the show’s all-female panel of “outspoken feminists” dropping f-bombs left, right and centre — much to host Fran Kelly’s dismay. But it was a question from the daughter of an Indigenous woman who died in custody that brought the show to an emotional standstill.
Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day was arrested for public drunkenness after being found asleep on a train in 2017. She was taken to the cells of Castlemaine police station in Victoria, where she fell and hit her head. She died in hospital from a brain haemorrhage 17 days later, and her family has been tirelessly fighting for justice ever since.
Her daughter, Belinda, appeared via video to ask the big question:
“Our mum, Tayna Day, died in custody because Victoria Police targeted her for being drunk in public. They then failed to properly care for her after they locked her up in a police cell,” Belinda Day said. “In all Australian legal history, no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible for an Aboriginal person’s death in custody, despite hundreds of Aboriginal people dying in their care. As Aboriginal people, we know that racism was the cause of our mum’s death and is the cause of so much pain and harm in this country. How do we get institutions to acknowledge racism and how should people be held to account?”
Kelly immediately threw to the show’s only Indigenous panellist, writer Nayuka Gorrie, who called for the Victorian Police force to be disbanded, as some audience members giggled.
“I think when we’re talking about institutions like police, I think it’s really tempting to think about how can we make the police nicer? Should we hire more black people? Should we have more women?” she asked. “But what we need to remember is that the police started, its very formation was the serve the interests of white sovereignty in this country. So I don’t know if we’re talking about accountability, I don’t know how far we can go in keeping an organisation like the police to account because it is there to be violent, it is patriarchal, and it is overwhelmingly white. I think it shouldn’t exist.”
“I think having police investigate themselves is not a way,” Gorrie continued. “I can’t see how accountability can come from that. And that still happens and that’s always happened. I don’t know.”
Another panellist, Egyptian-American journalist Mona Eltahawy, linked Australian police brutality to the patriarchy and repressive regimes across the globe.
“When I look at your PM, when I look at Donald Trump, when I look that Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Jair Bolsonaro, all of these men are patriarchal authoritarians,” she said. “At the heart of the way they rule is violence. The violence is meted out to you depending on where in the hierarchy you belong. If you’re a woman, queer, of colour, disabled, etc etc. So for me I say it’s an octopus, but the head of the octopus is misogyny but the eight tentacles is capitalism, police brutality it would be homophobia. All of these systems of oppression that privilege male dominance.”
A recent inquiry heard that systemic failings and institutional racism across the police and emergency services led to Day’s death. Victoria only recently decriminalised public drunkenness — 30 years after the Royal Commission into Indigenous Deaths in Custody recommended the crime be abolished.
Other topics discussed on Q&A included gendered violence and former US President Barack Obama’s recent denunciation of “call out culture”, You can watch the full episode of Q&A here.