Black Lives matter protests draw wide support

Brisbane. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

Protests on April 10 to mark 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody were large and angry. In Sydney, the grieving parents and grandparents delivered powerful speeches. More than 470 First Nations people have died in custody since the release of this groundbreaking report.

More than 6000 people turned out in Naarm/Melbourne, more than 3000 in Sydney and around 1000 in Meanjin/Brisbane. Protests were also organised in Mbantwe/Alice Springs and Lismore.

The deaths in custody of five First Nations people in the past month added urgency to the protests. It also highlighted how little had been done to end the deaths in custody.

Speakers expressed outrage that the 339 recommendations handed down had largely been ignored by successive governments.

These recommendations, which focussed on preventing First Nations peoples from being in prison in the first place, could have saved the lives of many if they had been implemented.

Despite a number of inquests and reports, the incarceration rate of First Nations peoples has continued to increase largely because the criminal justice system is increasing the severity of its treatment of Indigenous people.

There were 12,344 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in prisons last December, up from 12,322 the previous year and 7619 in 2011. First Nations peoples make up just 3% of the population but account for 30% of the prison population.

The police and court systems are complicit in the mistreatment of First Nations people, including racial profiling and harsher sentencing for First Nations people found guilty of minor crimes.

The NSW police are renowned for strip searching First Nations children and harassing young First Nations people on the streets.

The killing of George Floyd in the United States last May, which reignited the Black Lives Matter movement there, has also had an impact here: it has broadened the movement fighting for the families to receive justice and for those responsible to face justice.

Floyd and David Dungay Jnr, who died in Long Bay Jail in 2015, were both killed as a result of excessive police force on their necks. Floyd’s killer Derek Chauvin has just been charged with third-degree murder but Dungay Jnr’s killers have faced no justice.

The families of those who have died in custody released a series of demands on April 9 calling for justice. They include: implementing all the Royal Commission’s recommendations; forming an independent investigative body into the deaths in custody; re-allocating government funding away from punitive policing and prisons and towards grass-roots First Nations led programs, schools, healthcare and community programs.

They also want the age of criminal responsibility raised from 10 to at least 14 years old, and end to the use of physical restraints, torture and abuse of people in police and prison cells, and the repeal of punitive laws such as mandatory sentencing and the criminalisation of public drunkenness.

The families also want to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and have launched a petition that has been supported by more than 20,000 people.

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