No accident

April 24, 1991

Editorial: No accident

"I suggest you get big steel doors on your house and sleep under the bed, not in it", said Sydney barrister Chris Murphy after a June 17 NSW Police Tribunal ruling on the June 17, 1990, shooting of Darren Brennan in the bedroom of his Glebe home. The tribunal found that Brennan had been shot accidentally, and recommended that four police should face internal charges for negligence but not criminal charges.

Brennan was the second Sydney man shot in his bedroom by the NSW police, though he was a little more fortunate than David Gundy, who was shot dead in his Marrickville home. While Brennan survived, his life was ruined when a police shotgun blew away much of his face.

Meanwhile, the Human Rights Commission has released a report accusing police of systematically torturing Aborigines. The report lists assault with batons, telephone books, rubbish bins and even guns to secure confessions. It adds that Aborigines in police custody had been assaulted, threatened with rape, abused with sexual and racist epithets and told to hang themselves.

For every incident such as the two Sydney shootings, there are hundreds more that don't make the news. Moreover, this is not simply an Australian problem. Police in Los Angeles recently made international news when they were unwittingly videotaped beating the daylights out of Rodney King. Around the world, police systematically beat, torture, and murder people as a normal part of their jobs.

Why is this? The fact is, there is no other way to defend societies founded on exploitation and social injustice. Such societies must inevitably crush and brutalise some people.

That explanation doesn't hold out much hope for the near future. Obviously, the fundamental changes necessary to build a society free of injustice are some time away. What can be done in the meantime?

A good start would be to apply the law equally to all. When police commit murder, it should be called just that, not accidental killing or some other euphemism, and the killers should stand trial for murder, not face an internal inquiry conducted by other police.

The same should apply to other crimes committed by police. Aside from a small number of elite Australian army personnel who train police and military officers for dictatorial regimes in South-east Asia and elsewhere, the various police forces are probably the only organisations in Australia using torture and systematically though unofficially training some of their number in it. They are certainly the largest.

Equality before the law would also involve the courts abandoning their present farcical practice of automatically giving police evidence more weight than that of ordinary citizens. Everyone, from the highest judge down, knows that police lie systematically in court. Again, part of their unofficial training is learning to lie.

Short of measures such as this, and while we continue to live in a society with social injustice built into its very foundations, perhaps ay be the only other alternative!

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