Indigenous deaths in custody continue


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Readers are advised that the following article contains names and descriptions of people who have died.

At least 437 First Nations people have died in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody without a single conviction. The same kind of systemic violent racism that led to the police murder of George Floyd in the US is virulent in Australia.

In 1983 John Pat, a 16 year old Indigenous boy was beaten to death by police in Western Australia. The officers were later acquitted of manslaughter. The campaign that sprang up around Pat’s killing led to the 1991 Royal Commission.

But in 2018 by the government’s own assessment only 64 percent of recommendations had been properly implemented. The imprisonment rate of Indigeous people has doubled since 1991, when it was already disproportionately high.

It is no wonder then why deaths in police, prison and other state custody among Indigenous people remains so high. It also shows why the recent murder of George Floyd and following protests resonate with Indigenous rights activists in Australia.

Many of the deaths are uncomfortably similar to those seen in the US. Last year, Cherdeena Wynne (CW), aged 26, died in hospital after losing consciousness while being handcuffed by WA police.

In 2018 a 34 year old man, name unknown, died when he, according to police, “for an unknown reason stopped breathing” while being taken into custody. In 2015, 26 year old NSW man David Dungay was heard to say 12 times “I can’t Breathe” before he died while being restrained by prison guards.

These cases and the hundreds of other deaths in custody in Australia alongside similar events witnessed in the US and other countries expose the racist violence inherent in policing under capitalism. This sick system relies on divide-and-conquer oppression.

The recent Black Lives Matter protests have brought thousands into the streets in the major cities and towns across Australia, rallying against police brutality and racial injustice as well as in solidarity with those fighting injustice around the world.

Referring to the protests Scott Morrison warned against “importing things that are happening overseas”. He said “we don’t need to draw an equivalence here.”

However nothing could be further from the truth. Australia and the US as well as every other colonial country share undeniable links of racial injustice and police brutality.

These have been present since the founding of these countries with the invasion and occupation of Indigenous land and unjust oppression and exploitation forced upon black and Indigenous people ever since.

Without positive justice, rather than just the absence of legal restrictions, the flow on effect of that history still keeps Indigenous people living in poverty. Worse mental and physical healthcare, poor public services, lower education standards and substantially bleaker employment prospects face Indigenous people.

Capitalism is a system that causes poverty and then criminalises it. Police and prison systems are the tool to carry that out. To combat the deadly racist violence Indigenous people in particular are suffering we need to fight for direct democratic control over police forces.

All police or prison officers who have committed violent or racist attacks must be prosecuted. Police and prison officers must be accountable to the communities they supposedly serve with elected civilian oversight and management. The power to hire and fire as well as set to budget and policing priorities must be part of this.

But changes to the police alone are not enough, capitalism created this injustice and maintains it to this day. Capitalism hides behind racist political slogans like “Law and Order” and “Tough on Crime” to keep working class people blaming each other for the poverty and crime that capitalism itself creates.

The Black Lives Matter protests have shown the energy behind the movement to end racial discrimination all over the world. This energy must not be dispersed, the cries of the ruling class to moderate it’s tone or narrow it’s focus to only minor reforms must be resisted.

The entire system is guilty and revolutionary socialist action must be taken to overthrow this racist capitalist system and replace it with democratic socialism. As famous African American activist Assata Shakur said: “Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who were oppressing them.”

By Ben McIntyre

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