In August, thousands of people took to the streets to protest the unjust verdict handed down to the killer of indigenous teenager Elijah Doughty. Elijah’s killer was found not guilty of manslaughter, and was instead convicted of the lesser charge of causing death by dangerous driving. For the death of a 14-year-old boy he was sentenced to a mere three years in jail.
The incident occurred a year ago in Kalgoorlie, a town in Western Australia with an indigenous population around three times the national average. Elijah was chased and run down by the man who was driving a large ute. The killer justified his actions by alleging that Elijah had stolen his motorbike. The supposed theft of the motorbike has still not been proven but regardless of who the motorbike belonged to, Elijah should never have had to pay with his life.
Many had hoped that the court’s verdict would see Elijah’s killer brought to justice, but the decision instead served to highlight the hypocrisy of the capitalist justice system. Despite the killer’s own words – that he had intended to cause harm to Elijah – he was let off with a slap on the wrist.
The case was deliberately held 600km away from Kalgoorlie in Perth, and not one indigenous person was on the jury. This serves to remind us that in the eyes of the law, indigenous people are seen as second-class citizens. There is no justice to be found in this system if you are black.
Adding insult to injury, the killer received what the courts call a “discount” for his early guilty plea on the lesser charge of dangerous driving, as well as for his “good behaviour”. As Elijah’s lawyers pointed out, your previous good behaviour should not count for much when you have killed someone.
In addition to this example of racist vigilantism, in the last few years we have seen indigenous people like Ms Dhu die in custody; Ms Dhu was being held for a few unpaid fines. Incidents of torture being inflicted upon Aboriginal youth at the Don Dale detention center have also been exposed. In none of these cases have the perpetrators of violence had to deal with serious consequences.
This is because as far as capitalism is concerned indigenous people are seen as mere barriers to profits. They are driven out of remote communities to help free up mineral rich land and so that their labour can be exploited. If they fall foul of capitalist law they are treated harshly in order to remind them that they are expected to adhere to the rules of the profit-driven system.
It has been this way since Australia was first colonised. Capitalism was created amidst the bloodshed of Aboriginal people and to this day it is still responsible for the deaths, incarceration and displacement of thousands of indigenous people. Aboriginal people cannot expect justice, let alone control over their own affairs, as long as the capitalist system continues.
In recent years there has been somewhat of a revival of the indigenous rights movement. This is to be welcomed but if this movement is really to challenge the powers-that-be it will need to go further than just calls for reforms to this corrupt system.
The example of the Black Panthers in the US during the 1960s and 1970s is something that today’s new generation of anti-racist fighters should replicate. The Panthers were socialists and they understood that that there could be no real equality or justice under capitalism.
The Black Panther leader Fred Hampton once famously said: “We say you don’t fight racism with racism. We’re gonna fight racism with solidarity. We say you don’t fight capitalism with no black capitalism; you fight capitalism with socialism.”
The best way to struggle against both racism and capitalism is to build a united movement of working class people. Racism is used as a tool to divide working class people. It primarily benefits the rich and powerful. Our power as workers is in our ability to bring society to a halt. This power transcends race lines. Workers from all backgrounds can be won to an anti-racist and anti-capitalist struggle when we highlight our shared power and our shared class interests.
By Kat Galea