The killing of two African American men in Minnesota and Louisiana in early July created an uproar across the US and around the world. In Australia there was lots of social media commentary and letters to the press about US racism.
The shooting of 12 police officers in Dallas, killing five, several days later was like a cold shower on the corporate media. But this has not stopped Australian activists from organising Black Lives Matter protests in Sydney and Melbourne, and linking it to justice for those killed in custody here.
First Nations people and their supporters have embraced the rallies, despite some early misunderstandings. The connection between Aboriginal deaths in custody and the US police shooting of innocent and unarmed African American citizens is clear: institutional racism, which is most clearly manifested in the police force.
The circumstances between the US and Australian killings are different but the result is the same: innocent people who are trying to get on with their lives — despite huge disadvantage and dispossession due to their skin colour — are being killed by an out of control police. And their families and communities are left to fight for justice in system that is stacked against them.
In Australia, when a First Nations person is killed in custody it will perhaps receive one or two lines in an article, or a brief mention on the radio or television news.
It will only ever be mentioned again if there is an internal police investigation, which usually results in a police statement that the police officers involved were not responsible for the death. Alternatively, a coronial inquiry will decide that the person died for an “unknown” reason.
Those seeking justice for these deaths have managed to gain media attention by organising a community response: the 12 annual rallies to demand justice for the killing of TJ Hickey; the burning of the police station on Palm Island by people mourning the death of Mulrungi; and the protests in Western Australia after Ms Dhu was left to die while in jail for unpaid fines.
By not reporting Aboriginal deaths in custody, the media is complicit in the deaths and helping the murderers in the police, prison and health systems to potentially do it again.
In the US, by contrast, the anger at the racist police shootings and the strength of the Black Lives Matter movement means that even the President has had to say something, even if that's the limit of his concern.
In the US, the police kill African Americans in full view. Here, it is done behind closed doors in the knowledge that the corporate media will leave it there.
It is bad enough that African American or Aboriginal people are being killed, but it is totally unforgivable for the corporate media to be complicit in these executions.
Another common point between the US and Australia is that while a few police officers have been charged with the killings, there has never been a conviction of a police, prison or health officer in Australia.
In 2014, young Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson by a white police officer. No one has been charged, let alone convicted for his death. It was one of the triggers for the Black Lives Matter movement.
It seems that the police in the US have a “licence to kill”. So far this year, they have killed 519 people — 23% of them Black. The combined percentage of African Americans and Latinos killed by police is 60%, although the two groups are only 30% of the US population.
Solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement here has to start with incorporating the deaths in custody movement. This campaign will have to break through the barriers put up by governments, police forces and Police Associations, the justice system and the media.
Both here and in the US, we have to call out these deaths for what they are — an expression of racism which is not only in the police force, but in society more broadly.
We need to develop a powerful movement to confront it. With Aboriginal people at the lead, we need to involve all democratic organisations — unions, students, ethnic and social groups — to work together. This will be the only way to defeat this institutionalised racism. Without justice, there is no peace.
[Ken Canning and Raul Bassi are members of Indigenous Social Justice Association and Socialist Alliance.]
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