The struggle for justice for Palm Island man Mulrunji — who died on November 19, 2004, in a police watch-house from horrific injuries within one hour of being arrested — is growing.
Widespread protests rocked Queensland within days of the Department of Public Prosecutions' Leanne Clare announcing she would not lay any charges regarding Mulrunji's death, claiming that his four broken ribs and liver split in two occurred from a "complicated fall". Given that the DPP's finding contradicted an earlier deputy coroner's report, which found that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused the death of Mulrunji and stated that Mulrunji should never even have been taken into custody, the protesters demanded that Hurley be charged immediately.
The 2000 people who rallied in Brisbane on December 20 denounced Labor Premier Peter Beattie for endorsing the DPP decision. They heard speakers from a broad cross-section of the Aboriginal community, joined by trade unionists, civil liberties lawyers and media personalities such as Ernie Dingo.
In Townsville, 1500 protesters marched, and marches were also held in Cairns, Innisfail and Thursday Island. Outside of Queensland, hundreds rallied in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth, each with their own stories of local Aboriginal deaths in cusody.
The first Aboriginal person to become a police officer, Col Dillon, who was working for the Queensland Department of Communities, publically resigned over the state government's endorsement of the DPP decision. Similarly, the first Aboriginal member of the Labor Party, who had been given life membership, quit the party.
An online petition demanding that Hurley be charged, that there be an inquiry into the DPP's inaction, that the charges against the Palm Islanders who rose up after Mulrunji died be dropped and that Beattie resign has been signed by 4000 people, including 2000 within a few days of the DPP's decision. Thousands of hardcopy petitions have also been collected, including from France and Germany.
Confronted by mounting public pressure, the Beattie government agreed to a review the DPP's decision, but then appointed Pat Shanahan to conduct it. When it was revealed that Shanahan had been on the panel that gave Clare her job, he stepped down from the appointment. The review will now be conducted by NSW chief justice Laurence Street.
There are still grave concerns about the review, which will look only at the evidence collated by the DPP. Street will not conduct interviews or examine any other evidence.
On January 16, the day Street visited Palm Island, Patrick Bramwell, who was in the cell in which Mulrunji died, was found dead. Lawyer Stewart Levitt, who represents the Palm Islanders charged with rioting after Mulrunji's death, said Bramwell's death may be linked to police pressuring him not to testify.
Levitt told the Australian that all Aboriginal people involved in police brutality cases in Queensland should be placed in federal witness protection programs. "The Queensland police have a history of being unable to investigate their own. Aboriginal people do not like being witnesses because the justice system has so routinely failed them", he said.
The Street review, which doesn't have the power to order that charges be laid, is expected to be handed down by early February. Meanwhile, protest rallies and marches will be held around Australia on January 26, "Invasion Day".