By Tom Jordan and John Tognolini
SYDNEY — "We're confident", NSW Aboriginal leader Arthur Murray told Green Left Weekly following a February 26 appeal in the NSW Supreme Court over charges of assault and riotous assembly arising from the 1987 Brewarrina police riot. Murray and co-defendant Sonny Bates were sentenced to 18 months' jail following their conviction by an all-white jury in Bathurst in April-May 1991.
The two served about two months before being released pending their appeal. The decision on the appeal will be handed down in about three weeks. The main grounds for the nine-point appeal are wrongful arrest and mistaken identity. The two have lodged a separate appeal against unduly severe sentences.
Murray and Bates were among 17 Aborigines arrested when police attacked mourners after the funeral of 28 year-old Aboriginal man Lloyd Boney on August 15, 1987. Boney had been hanged in a Brewarrina police cell. The only other person imprisoned over the Brewarrina clashes was Glen Boney, brother of Lloyd, who appealed successfully after serving 75 days of a six-month sentence.
The Supreme Court judges were critical of the judge who presided over the Bathurst trial. They said his summary of the evidence was inordinately long and unhelpful, and failed to deal with the most important points of identification.
There are strong grounds for believing police victimised Murray and Bates. Speaking to a 300-strong February 11 public meeting in Glebe, legal justice activist Tim Anderson said Arthur Murray and his family had "suffered constant and often violent" police harassment as a result of campaigning over the killing in a police cell of their son Eddie, and their prominent role in the establishment of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Also a prominent Aboriginal activist, Sonny Bates is a brother-in-law of Lloyd Boney. In extensive ABC television footage of the Brewarrina clashes, neither Murray nor Bates is shown committing the offences they were convicted of.
During the Bathurst trial another Aboriginal man, Rodney Grimes, said in court that it was he, not Murray, who had broken a police officer's leg during the clashes. Police later informed the court that Grimes had withdrawn this claim under interrogation. The appeal heard several witnesses testify that an assault with which Murray is charged was actually committed by a man with grey hair.
The Bathurst trial "proved beyond any doubt that two laws operate in the judicial system in Australia", Enid Boney, sister of Lloyd Boney and wife of Sonny Bates, told the Glebe meeting. "Arthur and Sonny were convicted on a conspiracy of lies. Two police officers who were on duty when my brother died were also on duty on the night of the so-called riot. They were star witnesses at Sonny and Arthur's trial."
The black deaths royal commission, set up a few weeks after the estigated Boney's death and recommended that charges be laid against these two officers, but "the Boney family, along with other families, are still waiting for justice", said Enid Boney.
The Brewarrina case is by no means the only one occupying the attention of Aboriginal activists at present. Lyall Munroe Jnr, from the Aboriginal Legal Service, told the Glebe meeting of police raids on Aboriginal communities in Redfern, Wollongong and elsewhere.
He said the Redfern community is living in fear of a new round of raids following recent bashings and murders in the area. "The Koori community is very apprehensive and concerned. Young black kids are now being pulled up and searched; some have been strip-searched." Recently, an Aboriginal youth was forced into a police car and left at La Perouse, several kilometers from Redfern.
In another incident, four young Aborigines who found a body approached the Aboriginal Legal Service about speaking to the police. "Our solicitor, who went to the police station in Redfern to accompany these four young fellas, was met with a trailer-load of abuse from the head honcho, who told our solicitor to 'fuck off' and 'to get fucked and get out the police station'."
A journalist from the Sydney Morning Herald met with a similar response. Police rang her boss and said, "If this fucking bitch thinks she's going to take the place of Tony Hewett, well she's got another think coming." Hewett is a journalist who covered the Brewarrina clashes.
The royal commission changed very little, says Chris Cuneen of the Institute of Criminology. While the commission's December 1988 interim report recommended reducing imprisonment of Aborigines, since 1987 there has been a 25% increase in the rate of imprisonment nationwide.
Cuneen says the increase is mainly concentrated in WA and NSW. In WA, which already had the highest rate of imprisonment for Aborigines, there has been a 24% increase. This is before the state's draconian new juvenile crime laws take effect. Around 73% of juveniles imprisoned in WA are Aboriginal. Under the Greiner Liberal government, NSW has recorded an 80% increase in jailings of Aborigines.
There have been at least 26 more deaths in custody since May 31, 1989, the cut-off date for royal commission investigations. A third of the most recent deaths have been in NSW, said Cuneen.