PM: Meet the families whose loved ones have died in custody

April 19, 2021
Brisbane protest on the anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Photo: Alex Bainbridge

In the lead-up to the 30 year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody,  the families of those who have died in custody launched this petition calling on the Prime Minister to meet with them. The petition has already drawn support from more than 31,000 people.

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Last year we saw the powerful movement of Black Lives Matter burst into the mainstream conscience in Australia and this is only getting stronger.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the need for the Black Lives Matter movement is unfounded here. However, there are currently two police officers charged with murder for the fatal shootings of our family members and there have been five Black deaths in custody since last June.

Hundreds of thousands of people have marched in solidarity with us against the issue of state sanctioned brutality. Systemic change is long overdue.

At least 441 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the Royal Commission handed down its finding in 1991. These aren’t just numbers to us: these are our Elders, mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and children.

No police officer or authority has ever been held criminally responsible. The legal system is so entrenched with systemic racism that Aboriginal people are the most incarcerated people in the world. Yet when one of our loved ones dies in the custody of police officers, prison guards or medical officers, there is no accountability.

In 1983, Aboriginal communities led a movement after 16-year-old John Pat, a young Aboriginal boy, died in police custody in Western Australia.

This movement put pressure on the government to address the grave injustices occurring against Aboriginal people inflicted by a violent policing system.

During September 1986 the Committee to Defend Black Rights (CDBR) sponsored and organised a national speaking tour — Aboriginal Deaths in Custody — where relatives of the victims spoke out against the perpetuated injustices involving the deaths of Aborigines while in police or prison custody during the last few years. In the years that followed more Aboriginal families responding to the death in custody of their loved ones expanded the movement. The outcome was the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody between 1987–1991.

The Royal Commission reviewed 99 Black deaths in custody and made 339 recommendations. Only 11 cases were those of Aboriginal women.

The federal government knows that few of those recommendations have been fully implemented, despite a one-sided report that says otherwise. In reality, most of the recommendations that have been actioned have subsequently been defunded or remain extremely under-resourced with limited Aboriginal governance.

We have families today experiencing the same trauma that prompted the Royal Commission. The intergenerational trauma of deaths in custody is crippling for Aboriginal communities who continue to fight but are still receiving no justice for the deaths of their loved ones. We are being silenced.

No justice, no peace. This change needs to be led by us. Join our call to be part of history. Sign and share the petition now.

The families involved in the petition and Rolling Stone Australia piece include:

Family of Cherdeena Wynne and Warren John Cooper

Family of Christopher Drage and family of Trisjack Simpson

Family of David Dungay Jnr

Family of Gareth Jackson Roe

Family of Joyce Gladis Clarke

Family of Ms Dhu

Family of Nathan Reynolds

Family of Raymond Noel Thomas

Family of Stanley Inman

Family of Tane Chatfield

Family of Aunty Tanya Day

Family of Aunty Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo

Family of Wayne Fella Morrison

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