Systemic racism means JC won’t get a fair trial in Geraldton

September 11, 2020
A protest demanding justice for JC in Geraldton last September. Photo: Deborah Green

The police officer charged with the murder of Joyce Clarke* (JC) in Geraldton last September entered a plea of not guilty in the Western Australia Supreme Court in Perth on August 17. He has also requested the trial be moved from Perth to Geraldton. The court will decide on his application to move the trial on September 18.

I live in Geraldton, in the same neighbourhood in which JC grew up. I know what this place is like. When I read he wants the trial to be moved to Geraldton my heart sank. I feel deeply that the change of venue will favour the police officer on trial.

If the trial is heard in Geraldton, I believe it would be a slap in the face for JC's legacy and her family fighting for justice. The town in which JC was killed is notorious for systemic racism.

If the trial is moved to Geraldton, JC’s family and community will not only have to fight the systemic racism, but also a community who sees Yamatji people as a stain on society they just cannot seem to remove. There have been public threats on social media to run young people over with cars.

For too many people in Geraldton, this seems a legitimate “solution” to social issues and the “problem” of our Yamatji children. It is not far-fetched to think someone could run down a First Nations child in this town.

It happened to Elijah Doughty in 2016 in Kalgoorlie.

Some non-First Nations people think it is a valid solution, with very little consequence. This was proven to be the case when young Elijah’s killer received a sentence of just three years, and ended up serving only 19 months.

In my experience, the hospital system in Geraldton is also big on systemic racism.

It would be very hard to find a Yamatji who has not experienced racism when presenting to the emergency department. Many staff assume you are either a drunk or methamphetamine addict: I know; it has happened to me.

Systemic racism also hovers around the Department of Child Protection (DCP). I know of a recent case where DCP clearly showed devastating bias.

A Yamatji mother of five did everything right, according to mainstream culture, to have her children reunited with her. Her youngest was a baby when he and his siblings were forcibly removed. She ended up getting four of her children back, but the youngest was kept by the foster parents on the grounds that they were “better parents”: a classic case of child theft and racism.

Maybe these examples might not be seen as relevant to whether the trial of the police officer charged with murdering Joyce Clarke should be moved to Geraldton. But nothing is further from the truth.

In my opinion, even the selection of the jury for the trial will be tainted by racism. When a jury is called up, they use the electoral roll. You will find JC’s demographic will not be selected for jury duty as the majority of her peers do not vote, or have not even enrolled to vote.

They are too busy trying to fight off despair and oppression. More than likely they feel that enrolling to vote is like saying their culture and history mean nothing.

The political system in Australia has aided cultural genocide both in the past and present. Going on the electoral roll and voting in elections feels like they are being traitors to their way of life.

I have lived in Geraldton for more than 25 years as a Yamatji woman and mother. I have experienced many examples of systemic racism. Not only have I experienced it, but I have seen it happen, with harrowing conclusions.

I have raised three sons and helped raise Yamatji girls who could have been taken from their families and put in the child protection system.

When I look at our oppression, via systemic racism, I see it is all enmeshed and there is not one Yamatji person who has not been affected, especially when it comes to the police.

When I was a young girl, I was stopped while looking both ways to cross a road. A police wagon drove past, did a U-turn and stopped me to ask my name and address because I looked as if I was a lookout for someone breaking into a house. All I was doing was making sure I was not going to be hit by a car, by looking both ways.

I have been followed in shops because of my skin colour and so have my children. I have attended rallies and protests in Geraldton asking for justice and dignity where, unfortunately, there was barely a single person of non-colour attending.

We are seen as a nuisance and asking for too much.

Recently I was involved in a heated argument with a white person who thought JC pretty much deserved to be shot and killed.

Unfortunately, this is a common opinion in this town and it is very disturbing.

I feel that the general public don’t give a damn about JC’s death or the fact that the trial being moved here is another traumatising event for all involved, especially for her family.

There is little to no uproar, and that is disturbing in itself.

The police force must be in the right: they are here to serve and protect, right?

I had to write something about Joyce Clarke’s death, and her alleged murder by a police officer in our community, as she deserves to be seen as a human being worthy of a fair trial. In my humble opinion, she will not get justice if the trial is moved to Geraldton.

[Deborah Green is a Yamatji woman and writer. *The family of JC requested the use of this abbreviation.]

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