Sam Watson: Continue the struggle for justice on Palm Island

Issue 
Sam Watson at the Stop Black Deaths in Custody rally, Brisbane, November 13. Photo: Jim McIlroy

Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody on Palm Island in November 2004. Despite reviewing findings highly critical of police by coroner Brian Hine at the third Coronial Inquest in May, on November 23 the Queensland Criminal Justice Commission (CMC) found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute the officers involved.

The office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is still considering allegations that the policeman directly responsible for the death of Mulrunji, Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, dishonestly claimed compensation after the community upheaval that took place on Palm Island after Mulrunji's death.

Palm Island Councillor Alf Lacey told ABC News on November 24: “At the end of the day, one thing that everyone has to understand is that someone died in a cell on Palm Island.

"I think it's so important that something went wrong and someone needs to provide Palm Island and the rest of Queensland some very indicative answers in terms of what happened and who was responsible.

"Certainly, it's so disappointing that after so long, a long drawn-out process, that this saga continues to deliver no results."

Green Left Weekly’s Jim McIlroy spoke to Aboriginal community leader Sam Watson.

* * *

The CMC has displayed judicial cowardice and lack of integrity … The CMC has again failed the people of Queensland. It has collapsed before the blatant pressure of the Queensland Police Union.

Our Aboriginal people are hurt and angry. They feel overwhelmed by this latest act of betrayal.

We must remain focussed and committed to struggle to gain justice for Doomadgee's family on Palm Island. In 2004, we made the commitment to ensure that police officers involved in the callous murder of Mulrunji would be held criminally accountable for the death of another innocent Aboriginal man.

We will continue the struggle. We will ensure that those police with blood on their hands are brought to justice.

The next step is to petition Prime Minister Julia Gillard to use the federal government's reserve powers to convene a broad-ranging Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody. It will soon be 20 years since the handing down of the findings of the original royal commission in 1991, and nothing has basically changed.

The new royal commission should conduct a complete and searching audit of the rate of arrests, incarceration and deaths in custody of Aboriginal people. This would include special reference to the Doomadgee case from 2004, the TJ Hickey case in Redfern and the death of Mr Ward in 2008 in Western Australia.

This struggle is not just about racist discrimination, but about the fundamental value of life, and the criminal accountability of our law agencies.

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