The family of Kumanjayi Walker and Yuendumu Elders condemned the not guilty verdict, handed down by the jury, in the murder trial of police officer Zachary Rolfe on March 11.
Kumanjayi Walker was killed on November 9, 2019 in Yuendumu, a town with a population of less than 800 people about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory. Constable Zachary Rolfe was committed to trial in 2020, the first police officer to stand trial for murder since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991.
Rolfe fatally shot Walker when he, along with four other officers, entered Walker’s house to arrest him.
During Rolfe’s committal hearing in September 2020, the court heard that the arrest was expected to be potentially dangerous, with prosecutor Philip Strickland saying: “There was a careful plan put in place by [a local sergeant] which involved the deceased being arrested whilst he was asleep at five in the morning.” That plan was ignored, however, and Walker died after Rolfe shot him during the attempted arrest.
Kumanjayi Walker’s family said on March 11 that the verdict is the direct result of racism in the court system. They have listed a series of sweeping changes for NT Policing including a call for more Aboriginal community control.
“We would prefer for Zachary Rolfe to be locked up. We had a good prosecutor and good cross-examinations. The defence wasn’t happy about it. We were not happy with the defence saying bad things about our young fella,” the family said.
“Seeing the footage from the day being played in court brought back bad memories for us. If, in this case, the defendant was yapa, they would have immediately been locked up and remanded in custody until the court case.
“Why is it different for Rolfe? How come he got bail into ACT for over two years? This whole scenario didn’t happen in the ACT. It happened in the NT. Kardiya justice system is really dishonest and it’s about time for change.”
Spokesperson for the Walker family, Japangardi, said: “No police have ever been charged and convicted of any wrong doing in relation to any deaths in custody for yapa. There are over 500 deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody that still need justice. We will still fight. We will appeal this court decision.
“We thought we were coming to a neutral ground where we could have a multicultural jury instead of just white people. But still there was no yapa on the jury. We felt left out. Are we not part of Australia? We want yapa on the jury so that they can tell other jury members how we see it. It’s always kardiya people, seeing through their eyes but they need to see it through our eyes too.”
Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves, long-term advocate for no guns in remote communities said: “The court didn’t take action so we need to take action on the ground in our communities to protect ourselves from racist police.
“We have waited for too long. We are calling on all yapa, yapa organisations and supporters to join us in demanding no more guns in remote communities. No more ex-military postings. Local police only, no external police units.
“Our senior Elders and yapa police liaison officers must be decision-makers in policing matters, not ignored like they were the night Kumanjayi Walker was killed. Don’t be afraid, stand up and tell them what you need.”
The Walker family and Elders say these changes will move toward stopping police shootings of First Nations people. Valerie Napaljarri Martin, deputy-chair of the Parumpurru Justice Committee elected at Yuendumu to instruct the Kumanjayi Walker matter said: “The biggest problem we have in our community is racism in the police. Racism kills. Racism killed Kumanjayi Walker. Now look at what happened during the trial? A young fella, the same age as Kumanjayi, was shot at six times in Palmerston by police! He is fighting for his life. The police have no respect at all.”
Martin continued: “There is no justice in the kardiya system. We are feeling so empty that our beloved young fella has been taken away from us. Nothing can bring him back. We have been devastated by this injustice and the court has not fulfilled its responsibility to hold Rolfe accountable for what he has done. The court system has not recognised our needs as Warlpiri people.”
The Walker family concluded: “We would like to encourage all Indigenous people right across Australia to fight for justice and no matter what happens, never back down. Keep fighting until justice prevails.”