How did an Aboriginal man riding a bicycle in Adelaide end up spending the night in jail?

South Australian police have been accused of racial profiling, after video footage of the violent arrest of an Indigenous man prompted an internal investigation.

Video emerges on Monday night of police violently arresting Noel Henry.

Video emerges on Monday night of police violently arresting Noel Henry. Source: Facebook

The violent arrest of a 28-year-old Aboriginal man in South Australia on Monday has raised questions about why police stopped and searched him in the first place.

South Australian police said they were responding to a call about a domestic violence assault in Kilburn when they stopped Noel Henry who was riding a bicycle.

Police said he was stopped to be searched on suspicion of carrying illicit drugs. After initially cooperating, there was an altercation which was captured on video by witnesses.

In the video, three officers can be seen pinning Mr Henry to the ground, while one officer appears to strike Mr Henry several times. 

After spending the night at Port Adelaide police station, he was released and charges dropped. 

Researcher Tamar Hopkins, who is doing her PhD research into racial profiling, says suspicion of drugs was often given by police as a reason for stopping people on the basis of race.

“In my opinion it sounds like a classic racial profiling situation. One of the things with racial profiling is the police engage in some kind of activity that doesn’t have a basis. In this instance someone riding a bike nearby an investigation that is unrelated was stopped to be searched for drugs,” she said.

“It does raise suspicions in terms of lack of reasonable basis. Those are the kinds of signs you look for whether a stop was based on a racial basis.”

She said there was a very high bar for what grounds police could stop and search someone for drugs and police must have a level of certainty.

“If someone is merely riding a bicycle past, that is not grounds to stop and search someone for drugs.”

She said while there is a general lack of data, it is known that Indigenous and other racialised people are stopped by police more often than those of Anglo backgrounds.

“But everywhere data is collected globally, it shows racialised people, Indigenous people, are more likely to be stopped by police and are more likely to have searches occur. Wherever data is collected, it is targeted racialised groups that are being stopped for no good reason,” she said.

Police have launched an internal investigation into the arrest and the officers involved placed on administrative duties.

SBS News sent questions to the South Australian police about what Mr Henry was doing prior to being stopped that made officers suspicious.

They declined to comment, saying “the matter remains under investigation and police will advise the outcome at the conclusion of the investigation”.

Aboriginal activist Latoya Rule said the incident reflected a systemic problem.  

"It's not just about retraining (the police) because we know that Noel Henry was clearly racially sterotyped when he was picked up," Ms Rule told SBS News. 

Cheryl Axleby, from the South Australian Aboriginal Legal Rights Movement, also questioned SA Police's explanation of the events leading up to Mr Henry's arrest.

"Why did they arrest him? What was he doing that made them suspicious he was carrying drugs? They haven't explained that," Ms Axleby said. 

“There is some effort now to save face by the commissioner so they can justify the arrest.”

Police Commissioner Grant Stevens was asked about the reasons for the stop in a heated press conference on Tuesday, but he declined to comment citing the ongoing police investigation into the matter.

He also denied there was an issue of systemic racism in the South Australian police force and urged people not to jump to conclusions before the police investigation is complete.

Advocates for Mr Henry have called for an independent investigation to be held, saying police shouldn’t be investigating police and have also called for charges to be laid against the officers involved.

4 min read
Published 17 June 2020 at 4:22pm
By Jarni Blakkarly
Source: SBS