Nineteen-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker died after being shot by police on November 9 in Yuendumu, a town with a population of less than 800 people about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, in the Northern Territory.
Following nationwide protests over the killing a police officer was charged with his murder on November 13.
Below, Yamatji woman Deborah Green reports on a protest held in Geraldton, Western Australia — where less than two months ago 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot dead by police — and the significance of the murder charge.
Once again we find ourselves as a First Nations community protesting another death in custody, this time of a young man from Yuendumu. A national day of action was held on November 13, where First Nations people and supporters gathered in solidarity with Walker’s family and to demand justice.
The family are calling for an independent inquiry into the shooting. As with other deaths in custody, it is felt that the police should not be investigating their own.
The family feel they were denied access to Walker after his death. They were not told of his death for at least a day and were kept in the cold for the majority of the process.
They are understandably upset and infuriated by the way they have been treated. They are demanding answers.
Here in Jambinu, also known as Geraldton, a small group gathered at a silent protest organised by Sherona Roe, a local woman who has had her fair share of grief and experience when it comes to murder in police custody.
Her sister, Ms Dhu, died in custody as a result of institutionalised racism. Police treated Ms Dhu appallingly; she was ignored as she died slowly and in harrowing pain in a jail cell.
The gathering came only two months after local Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot dead by Geraldton police. Her family had wanted to get her help as she was in a vulnerable mental state. But the mental health situation quickly turned into a police shooting and Clarke’s death.
The investigation into Clarke’s death has been kept tightly sealed. This has not gone down well with the people of the Yamatji region.
People are afraid of calling the police for help for fear of being or having a family member shot.
There has been a long history of our people being afraid of the police because, historically, the organisation was conceived to keep First Nations people away from colonisers, in many cases by shooting and killing them.
Today, the same continues to occur, though under the guise of “maintaining law and order”. Firsts Nation people are, and always have been, afraid of the police because its murderous history still runs through the veins of the blue army.
I am delighted that a police officer has been charged over Walker’s death, though dubious at the same time. Just because someone is charged, does not mean they will face imprisonment.
I was happy about one thing though. Today, I had begun to feel a twinge of doubt. I had started to question the purpose of rallies and protests, feeling like I was just going through the motions. This murder charge has given me a much-needed boost. Our work is being heard and taken seriously.
Let us hope no more shootings take place in the meantime.