A crowd of up to 80 people rallied on the steps of Western Australian parliament house on February 25 to demand justice for the family of Miss Dhu.
Dhu was a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman who died in police custody on August 4 last year. She was imprisoned in Port Hedland for non-payment of fines.
The protest, which was organised by the Deaths in Custody Watch Committee WA (DICWA), demanded that WA Premier Colin Barnett honour the pledge he made to the Dhu family at a previous rally in October. Barnett said his government would do everything possible to reduce Aboriginal numbers in prison and also promised a coronial inquest into her death. The Barnett government has not delivered on this pledge.
After chanting “What do we want? Justice! When do we want it? Now!”, the crowd was addressed by the grandmother of Miss Dhu, Aunty Caroll, who said her family and other families of people who have died in police custody need answers from the government.
She said: “We are considered the First Nations people. Where is the respect for the First Nations people?”
A petition calling on the Coronial Officer to open the inquest into Miss Dhu’s death was presented to Greens MLC Robin Chapple on behalf of her family to be tabled in parliament.
Chapple called upon the government to focus on building communities as opposed to its draconian “law and order” agenda. This agenda leads to more Aboriginal people being locked up for offences such as unpaid fines, as happened to Dhu.
He said the government’s “law and order” agenda fails to take into account that it is Aboriginal people who bear the brunt of these policies.
This point was backed up by shadow minister for corrective services Paul Papalia, who told the crowd that an ALP report released last year found that one third of women in Western Australia’s prisons are there because they are unable to pay fines and two thirds of those were Aboriginal.
He called on the government to stop locking up people for being unable to pay fines and find alternatives such as community service.
Aboriginal activist Vanessa Colbung and Miss Dhu’s uncle, Sean Harris, who have been campaigning on behalf of the Dhu family, also spoke. Harris called on the state government to implement the recommendations made by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Videos from the rally below from Deaths in Custody Watch Committee