Racism begets violence in Alice Springs

October 19, 2009

Five Alice Springs men have been charged for the July 25 bashing of Aboriginal man Kwementyaye Ryder. The killing is part of a spate of racist violence that has plagued Alice Springs over recent months.

On September 25, a memorial cross was burned that marked where Ryder was killed.

On September 17, an Aboriginal woman was killed in a hit-and-run on the Stuart highway. Despite it being a high-traffic area, no witnesses have come forward.

A week earlier, a man sold "White Power" T-shirts with Nazi swastikas from a car parked outside the Alice Springs council offices for several days. When confronted by a National Indigenous Times journalist, the man said: "You're just some white cunt who's a fucking nigger lover."

It took a week of public outcry for police to finally charge the man with an offence.

The rise in racist violence comes in the context of federal government policies that clearly discriminate against Aboriginal people — the NT intervention.

The "basics" card system replaces 50% of Aboriginal welfare recipients' income with cards that can be spent only on food, clothing and medical supplies. Big supermarkets in Alice Springs now have separate queues for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

The federal government suspended the Racial Discrimination Act to pass these policies. The NT intervention has consolidated Aboriginal people's position as second-class citizens.

It's little wonder the government's racist laws have helped bring about a spike in racist violence.

It's not just federal laws, however. Recent council by-laws have also contributed to the problem.

Ryder, a trainee ranger and well-known watercolour artist, was found dead on July 25 after an alleged fight with the five men.

The September 28 ABC Online said the five were reported to have harassed Aboriginal people camped in the Todd River just half an hour before the killing.

The Todd River is a common campground for homeless Aboriginal people in Alice Springs. A housing crisis has caused a big rise in homelessness in Alice Springs — especially among Aboriginal people.

In response, the Alice Springs council passed by-laws mandating fines of $130 for people caught begging. It also empowered council rangers to take blankets from homeless people in the Todd River. Both laws clearly target poor Indigenous people.

Ryder's mother, Theresa Ryder, told ABC Online on September 28 that there had been an increase in racism over the previous few months.

"Alice Springs was once a happy town where my kids grew up and went to school, made a lot of friends with the school friends that they grew up with", she said.

"Now it is a very sad town. The town is not the same any more. This town is full racist thing, you know."

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