Outspoken former magistrate and Kuku Yalanji woman Pat O’Shane told a rally outside the Cairns courthouse on March 15 that the people of Yuendemu deserved better. She said she stood with them and the families of the 500 people who have been killed in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody.
The protest was called to coincide with International Day Against Police Brutality.
“We stand with the people of Yuendemu today: 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in Australia in the 30 years since the royal commission aimed at preventing these deaths.
“Five hundred people died — often violent deaths — and not a single person has been held accountable.
“After a police officer shot to death teenager Kumanjayi Walker in Yuendemu, a murder charge was actually laid after huge community protest. There was hope that a little ray of justice might finally shine. But then, after [the March 11] acquittal, it was just devastation again.”
O’Shane, who is running for Socialist Alliance in the seat of Leichhardt, called out state and federal governments for refusing to act to prevent deaths in custody. “They refuse to implement many of the recommendations of the royal commission, or those of the Australian Law Reform Commission’s Pathways to Justice inquiry, the Don Dale royal commission and many coronial investigations.
“Australia is a signatory of the United Nations’ Convention on the Rights of the Child. But governments lock up children as young as 10 years old. They’re just babies.”
O’Shane said members of her family have been sent to jail and “when they came out, they were broken people”.
“People need the chance to be proactive in changing their circumstances. But they can’t if the only thing they’ve ever known is rejection, poor housing, ill treatment and police going out and shooting their young people.
“Services are run down, public housing is a drop in the ocean, public education is sliding, mental health services are nowhere and no one can get rescued in a flood. But somehow there is always money for locking people up. These are choices that politicians make.”
O’Shane, Australia’s first Indigenous lawyer and magistrate, said community alternatives work better, cost less and make us safer. “I know they work because I pioneered many of them in my 26 years as a magistrate. We need justice, real accountability, and we need to properly invest in a future for our kids. Then we'd all be safer.
[To help Pat O’Shane’s campaign, get in touch here.]