There has been much discussion on social media in Australia about the current situation in Ferguson, Missouri. A young black man (Michael Brown) was shot dead by a white policeman and yesterday 25 November 2014 that white policeman was not indicted (that is to say there was not enough evidence to bring charges against him) for murder. Regardless of the circumstances of Michael Brown’s arrest, which many people have been happy to point out, it does not warrant such a heavy handed response from police, – let alone to not face any punishment whatsoever.
Put into context Michael Brown’s death was just another example of institutional racism within the US. Only 2 or 3 days before (need to check date) the Grand Jury’s decision not to indict the white policeman a 12 year old boy, yes you read that right, was shot dead by police. This 12 year old boy was playing with a toy gun in his schoolyard but because the white policeman saw him as a young black man brandishing a weapon this 12 year old boy was shot down.
While the majority of reactions in Australia has been shock, disgust and surprise for those of us who face discrimination and institutional racism in this country on a daily basis the blatant racial aspects of these two cases are not surprising. What is surprising though is the willful ignorance and disinterest from the general white population in Australia. The correlation between the poisonous race relations in the US and our own situation is obvious.
As it was so succinctly pointed out on twitter yesterday, we don’t kill our ‘blacks’ on the street. We kill them, in record numbers, when they are in custody. The number of Aborigines who have died in custody is 1400 since 1980 when figures started to be officially kept. That number though would in reality be in the tens of thousands before then.
The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was held from 1987 to 1991. The Commission investigated 99 cases of aboriginal deaths in custody between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989. The conclusion was that the 99 deaths were not caused by police violence, despite the fact over 90% of victims showed evidence of extreme force to their bodies and heads.
Can one of the reasons why Aboriginal deaths in custody doesn’t cause such an outcry in Australia is because it is not occurring in another country? Is it easier to appreciate racism and police shootings if it is occurring elsewhere? Why does Australia have its head in the sand about this issue?
To date only one police officer has been arrested and charged with a death in custody, that of Cameron Doomadgee. He was indicted, charged and consequently acquitted by a jury in June 2007. The town where this occurred had their own riot, shown on national TV.
Where was the outcry from our fellow Australians when the white policeman was acquitted of all charges?
Let’s stop pretending that record numbers of Aboriginal people (you know like the ones you embraced in the ground breaking TV show First Contact) aren’t dying in our institutions.
What will it take?