Kidnapping of Aboriginal youths

Issue 

SAM WATSON of the Aboriginal Legal Service in Brisbane was interviewed for Green Left Weekly by John Nebauer on May 20.

Can you outline what happened on the night in question?

On Tuesday, May 10, between 3 and 4am, three Aboriginal juveniles aged 12, 13 and 14 were walking through the [Fortitude] Valley mall, and walked past a cafe where six uniformed police officers were having coffee.

These juveniles were not committing any unlawful act, were not creating a nuisance and were not wanted for questioning in relation to any offence.

However, the police came to them, apprehended them and placed them in three marked police vehicles, one juvenile per vehicle. There were two sedans and one half van. Then they were taken from the Valley mall to a place we now know was Pinkenba in the area between the tarmac of Brisbane Airport and the Brisbane River.

When the police reached there, the boys were taken out of the vehicles. They were told they must keep away from the Valley mall, and that they weren't welcome there.

They showed them a flat piece of timber, told them to place their hands on the timber so that they'd have their fingers cut off. The police then told them to remove their shoes. The boys refused to do that, so the police pulled their shoes off, threw their shoes into the bushes, told them to keep out of the Valley or they'd end up in the river, and then the police vehicles drove off.

The boys managed to find their shoes, put them on, walked to the nearby oil refinery. A shift worker at the refinery logged them approaching his station at 5.20am. He had $5 in his pocket. He couldn't leave his post, but he was able to give the boys $5, and they were able to walk back towards Kingsford Smith Drive and grab a cab.

We've been able to contact that shift worker, and we've managed to make him available to the CJC [Criminal Justice Commission]. We've also been able to confirm the identity of the cab driver who picked the boys up shortly after that and drove them along Kingsford Smith Drive until their money ran out. He had a fare of $7 on the meter, but seeing how the boys only had $5, he took them a bit further and dropped them off.

The boys had a sleep in a bus shelter and made their way back to the city. They eventually arrived here at the Legal Service late in the morning. Even some hours after the incident, the boys were still quite traumatised and quite fearful.

We were able to quieten them down, stabilise them and then after that we were able to talk to them and take full accounts of the incident. We made our own inquiries on the Tuesday and Wednesday morning, and on the Wednesday we relayed copies of the information to the police minister, Mr Braddey, and lodged the initial documents with the Criminal Justice Commission.

The CJC then set up an investigating team on Friday, May 13. They sent two senior investigators to the Legal Service. Those investigators interviewed the eldest boy on the Friday, and on the following Monday they interviewed the other two boys.

During this week we have been able to assist the CJC to retrace the steps from the Valley mall right through to Pinkenba and back, so the CJC has a substantial amount of material.

On Sunday, May 15, six police officers came forward, identified themselves to their union and made certain submissions. The Police Union gave a full statement to the media that Sunday night, and the senior president of the Police Union, Mr John O'Gorman, readily admitted that he had had conversations with those six police officers.

They had admitted they were the ones involved in the incident, and they were concerned because "they did not know there would be a problem". So if in fact they have made those submissions, the CJC should immediately interview those officials and take statements from them, but to date the CJC hasn't even made contact with the Police Union, the police officers involved. In fact I don't think that they've even contacted the police commissioner.

The CJC is definitely acting at one level on this. We posed the question rhetorically that if six armed black men had kidnapped three white children from the Valley mall in full public view and taken those three white kids down to Pinkenba, brutalised and terrorised them, would those black men have lasted the night? We doubt it very much. There is clearly one law for one and one law for another here in Queensland.

Since the reports have been in the news, other people have come forward with similar incidents over the past few years.

That's right. Once we made this incident public, a number of other people approached us and gave us accounts of incidents similar to this that dated back to 1975-1976. However, it's going to take a substantial amount of effort from the CJC to encourage people to come forward and give statements.

The CJC at this stage has not appeared to be in any way motivated to bring the investigation to any sort of early close. We believe there's enough evidence there to immediately prosecute those six officers.

On Monday the newspapers reported that the police had come forward because they realised that they did something wrong, but in Tuesday's papers there was a little section which mentioned in passing videotape evidence from the security cameras in the Valley mall. Do you think that it was the video evidence that forced the officers to come forward?

I can't really comment on what was in the minds of the police officers, but one would have to suspect that that is indeed the case. If the police were assured that there was no capacity for their actions to have been on any sort of record, one wonders whether they would have come forward.

Do you think that the CJC is going to do another whitewash similar to that of the Daniel Yock inquiry? It seems already that they're being a problem.

Yes, the Aboriginal community and the general community have a perceived lack of confidence in the CJC. In recent times we've seen the CJC conduct a closed hearing into the Foxtail Palms affair, primarily because the people involved were high-ranking staff members of the premier's own office.

Now one wonders why the CJC chose in the Daniel Yock inquiry to have a full open hearing when the families involved had specifically requested a closed hearing.

It seems that police harassment of Murri youth in the Fortitude Valley area in particular is getting worse. It seems that the police now think that they have a free hand to try to keep black kids out of the mall.

There's no-one to gainsay the police now, because the police have made statements to Aboriginal kids in the Valley mall and the City mall that they got away with killing Daniel Alfred Yock, and it's just a question of who and when they're going to kill the next one.

So what's going to happen now?

Hopefully there will be criminal charges laid against the six. However, we're not going to wait for that. We've initiated legal proceedings today to take the commissioner of police and the Queensland government into court on the boys' behalf.

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