On July 21, a Western Australian Supreme Court jury found the man accused of chasing and killing Aboriginal teen Elijah Doughty with his car was not guilty of manslaughter.
It is the latest demonstration that the legal system is failing Aboriginal people and exposes the depths of a racism that remains the bedrock of mainstream Australian culture.
The accused, whose identity has been suppressed for his safety, was instead found guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous driving causing death. He will be eligible for parole in February next year. Aboriginal people and their supporters are calling the verdict a miscarriage of justice and a continuation of a social norm that sees the killing of Aboriginal people as inconsequential.
Speaking at a vigil in Perth on July 23, renowned Noongar activist Robert Eggington called on the crowd to “not be shocked by what’s happened. This is but the latest example of the bloody violence used against Aboriginal people since the invasion of this country 200 years ago.”
The killing of an Aboriginal person, in this case a 14-year-old, is, tragically, not an isolated incident, but rather typical of the violence that Aboriginal people experience on a daily basis.
Besides the actual deaths — in custody, through murder or the extremely disproportionate rate of suicide — racism takes a myriad of forms: poverty, homelessness, underfunding and closure of communities, and government programs that disempower elders and undermines culture.
Whether through physical violence or in less direct ways, Aboriginal peoples and their cultures are under threat every day from political, economic and cultural institutions that, since 1788, have tried to get rid of them.
Aboriginal people make up only 3% of the total population of Australia and many live in conditions unimaginable to most other Australians. On many accounts, successive governments have contributed to this degrading condition; seizing every promotional opportunity while cutting funding for essential services that make remote community and inner-city living possible.
The question, then, is why are such active efforts made by both the mainstream media and the government to demonise Aboriginal people? Why, when Elijah was run down, did the media speculate about whether the bike he rode was stolen?
During conversations I’ve had about Elijah since, too often the issue of the bike becomes the focus, as if the teenager’s brutal death was a side note in a story about personal property.
Why did the ABC reporter at the vigil in Perth describe their brief as to “keep an eye out for trouble” rather than to interview Elijah’s family?
What role has the media played in shaping those public opinions in Kalgoorlie community Facebook groups where locals openly threatened to run down Aboriginal kids with their cars?
Why does the federal government seek legislative changes that further undermine the Native Title Act, when already the legal provisions for Traditional Owners are tokenistic?
Why spend millions of taxpayer dollars on a Recognise campaign when all along most Aboriginal people have demanded Sovereignty and Treaties?
Why dedicate so much funding to policing and jailing Aboriginal people when a fraction of the amount could provide decent and much-needed social services?
Answering those questions means going back to 1788 when Australia was first invaded and claimed as a dominion of the British Empire. Even under the pro-colonial laws of the day, “Terra Nullius” was an illegal sham and when Aboriginal people say “Sovereignty never ceded”, they mean just that.
Since Invasion, huge wealth has been derived from the land and resources, largely in mining and pasturing; land which belongs to the First Nations peoples. Those same mining interests have shares or regular advertisement in the major news networks, and finance the major political parties.
Aboriginal people and communities that are culturally aware and united are more likely to defend their rights, and therefore pose a threat to the status quo. Stoking racism and dysfunction in the broader community is not a passive process but an active one, and the chaos this produces isn’t an “unfortunate situation”, it is the intended outcome.
What is even more worrying for the corporate agenda is the prospect that non-Aboriginal Australians might learn about and be inspired by the oldest living culture in the world — one founded on collective social and environmental well-being.
Such knowledge could inspire the entire community into action for a more inclusive and sustainable society, one that is led by Aboriginal people and their knowledge.
In fighting for the rights of Aboriginal people, we are also fighting to defend and promote a culture that has not only survived centuries of violence and dispossession but also demonstrates every day that a different, better world is possible.
[Chris Jenkins is a member of the Socialist Alliance national executive.]