Guilty of shopping while black

Issue 

Most people reading or hearing the news story last week about the 12-year-old Aboriginal boy who was taken to court in Western Australia (WA) and charged with receiving stolen goods — a 70 cent chocolate Freddo — would have thought this was a sick joke.

But it wasn't. Institutional racism remains an ugly reality especially in the so-called criminal justice system in Australia.

An Aboriginal school teacher in WA told me she still felt nervous every time she entered a department store because when she was 12 she was grabbed by store detectives in a Big W store and falsely accused of shoplifting.

She was dragged into a back office and searched along with another (non-Aboriginal) girl. But it was the Aboriginal girl who the store was most aggressively accused of the crime.

Nothing was found on either girl, but they were still taken to the police station and searched again.

Finally, the non-Aboriginal girl spat out a small piece of costume jewellery she had nicked (unbeknown to the Aboriginal girl) and placed under her tongue. She was not charged, just warned and sent home.

No apology was given to the Aboriginal girl. Instead, she got a warning and was told she was banned from Big W stores!

Her childhood trauma came back last week when she heard about the boy taken to court for receiving a stolen Freddo Frog.

But these are just relatively petty examples of a bigger problem. WA jails "are at breaking point, with the mentally ill, the poor and Aborigines crammed in 'like sardines', forcing numbers to explode by almost 900 in just one year", said the November 18 Australian.

"The revelations follow previous figures that showed 40% of the state's jail population was Aboriginal."

This is the farce of the government's PR campaign about "closing the gap" in 2009. The racial gap is growing in health, housing and welfare as well as in the jails.

Green Left Weekly is passionately committed to fighting for a radically different world. The daily outrages — big and small — suffered by Indigenous Australians alone make it a moral imperative to work for social change.

But there are so many other big reasons: climate change, war, the vilification of refugees, homophobia, etc … so many reasons that it can be depressing.

Florynce Rae Kennedy, an African American feminist activist, is widely credited with popularising the slogan: "Don't agonise, organise!" It is a slogan we live by at GLW.

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