• The community of Yuendumu stand in solidarity with one another after 19-year-old Warlpiri man is shot dead by police. (Jamie Nelson Williams)Source: Jamie Nelson Williams
Yuendumu community demands an independent investigation into the death of Kumanjayi Walker as prominent figures express sadness and outrage and nationwide demonstrations organised.
By
Brooke Fryer

Source:
NITV News
11 Nov 2019 - 5:43 PM  UPDATED 11 Nov 2019 - 9:59 PM

Warning: Sensitive Content 

Prominent Northern Territory figures have expressed their sadness and outrage over the death of a 19-year-old Warlpiri man, as the remote community of Yuendumu goes into mourning.  

The young man, Kumanjayi Walker, was shot by police early Saturday night in Yuendumu, a community located around 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs.

Police allege Mr Walker stabbed an officer as they were attempting to arrest him for "outstanding offences". 

They claim this led to one officer discharging his firearm, wounding Mr Walker, who then died shortly afterwards. 

However, several community Elders have told NITV News that they dispute the account made by police.

Community members are also angry with the way police handled Mr Walker after the shooting.

One source told NITV New that the house where the shooting occurred had blood on the floor suggesting Mr Walker's body had been dragged.

Another resident, Senita Granites, said she witnessed police load Mr Walker into the police vehicle.

"I went outside and I saw them drag him by the leg and chucked him in the paddy wagon," Ms Granites told NITV News.

"He wasn’t even moving when he was dragged out from the house by the leg. He wasn’t even carried. 

"I wake up in the night. I can't sleep. Everyone here in Yuendumu couldn’t sleep, cause of what the police done to us." 

Calls for an independent investigation

Warlpiri community members and Elders met with police at the Yuendumu basketball courts on Sunday afternoon, where NT Police Acting Assistant Commissioner Travis Wurst apologised for the death of Mr Walker.

"Police are here to stay, we're here to protect and we want to work with you," Assistant Commissioner Wurst said.  

Senior Elder, Ned Hargraves, said he was glad the police came to hear community concerns, but the community still wanted them to leave Yuendumu.

“That might be what they had to say, but we still don’t trust anybody. I said to them, 'How can we trust you?," said Mr Hargraves. 

"We want a full investigation." 

Nationwide support  

NT Senator Malarndirri McCarthy has released a public statement in response to tragedy, sending her sympathies to the community.

“I extend my sincere condolences following the tragic incident in your community at the weekend,” the statement reads. 

“I stand with you in your time of grief and may the strength of Country bring you peace at this really sad and difficult time.”

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt, told NITV News that he is currently speaking with the NT Chief Minister Michael Gunner, and will continue to receive updates to "understand the circumstances" of the shooting. 

"My thoughts are with the family and friends of Kumanjayi Walker and the Yuendumu community," Mr Wyatt said. 

Meanwhile nationwide protests are planned for Wednesday, following requests from senior Warlpiri Elders. 

The demonstrations follow Monday's solidarity protest on the local basketball court in the Warlpiri community of Lajamanu, around 500km north of Yuendumu.

"We standing and supporting our Warlpiri tribe, First Nations and Country for justice in Lajamanu," Lajamanu resident Maxwell Tasman said.

Medical services withdrawn

The Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation (WYDAC) have claimed the police shot Mr Walker knowing there was “no medical assistance available in the community”.

At the time of the shooting, medical staff within the community had been evacuated following a series of break-ins.

After Mr Walker was shot, police say they called for ambulance assistance. A source from the community told NITV News that ambulance took two hours to arrive. 

Mr Walker died before medical services could reach him. 

“WYDAC is concerned about the conduct of the NT Police and a number of the decisions that were made including the use of deadly force, the lack of timely communication with family, the decision to continue to be visible in the community carrying assault rifles,” WYDAC said in a statement.

The Royal Flying Doctor Service said it was notified of Mr Walker's death at 9pm on Saturday night. Most of the local community were notified the following morning after 7am. 

WYDAC said trust between community members and police was “broken” since the shooting.

“WYDAC are acutely aware of the increased fear and broken trust that young Warlpiri people now have when interacting with NT Police,” they said.

The lack of trust has lead to community members asking that all police leave Yeundumu for at least one year, something that Mr Gunner said won't happen. 

"I think it would be irresponsible for us not to provide and continue to provide those police in that community to make sure all in that community felt safe," Mr Gunner said to reporters on Sunday. 

Police Response

On Sunday the NT police Acting Deputy Commissioner Michael White addressed the media. He said he understood that two officers went to Mr Walker's home in “an attempt to apprehend him for outstanding offences”.

"As they attempted to apprehend him he had lunged at the members," Deputy Commissioner White said.

"My understanding is he was armed with a weapon, but at this stage, it's part of the investigation and it's early on.

"During that time a struggle ensued, and two shots were fired and he sadly passed away later on."

During the address to the media, Mr White could not identify what weapon Mr Walker was armed with and said he expected the officers involved to have been wearing a body camera.

"That's a matter for the investigation but I would hope and be sure that the members involved had their body-worn cameras operating," he said.

When asked why a firearm was used over non-lethal weapons like a taser of pepper spray, Mr White said he didn’t have that information but assumed they would have been present with the officers. 

Mr White also said the death is being treated as a death in custody and investigation into the incident has opened.

WYDAC said they are calling for the investigation to be “conveyed to the community in a timely manner and in language they can understand”.

Principal legal officer of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA) David Woodroffe supported this, saying that by the end of the investigation all questions should be answered. 

"The investigation of the police shooting in Yuendumu must be open, thorough and transparent and one that informs the family and community," Mr Woodroffe said in a statement on Monday. 

"It is necessary to leave no question unanswered as to the police shooting and as to why there was no access to timely medical treatment." 

On Sunday, NITV News confirmed NAAJA were not notified of the incident at any point during the night which is a legal requirement through the NT's Custody Notification Service.

Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991 more than 420 deaths in custody have occurred.

'We want justice': young Warlpiri man dies after being shot by NT police
A young Warlpiri man has died after being shot by police in the central desert community of Yuendumu overnight.