“People in Australia don’t have the understanding of the history of police killings.”
Journalist Alexis Daish made this statement on Sunday. She was in Los Angeles reporting on the protests sparked by the murder of George Floyd.
As many have pointed out, the ignorance of such a claim is breathtaking. It immediately raised a response from Aboriginal people across social media. How could she, an educated white woman, a journalist, overlook the depressingly regular deaths of Aboriginal people at the hands of the police, or by the negligence of their jailers?
Her comment, ignorant as it was, proves itself true. Because most people – that is non-Indigenous people in this country – do not know their names.
But some of us do.
Kumanjayi Walker. Tanya Day. Ms. Dhu…..
Shot, profiled, neglected, left to die in inhumane circumstances. These families understand. Just like George Floyd’s family they will never forget. These are recent events. Why does Alexis Daish not know their names? Why do most Australian’s not know?
“I can’t breathe.”
These were George Floyd’s last words, as he asphyxiated in a Minneapolis gutter. The exact same words were spoken by David Dungay Jnr from the floor of a Long Bay jail cell in 2015. Multiple officers restrained him, compressing him down. He had breached prison regulations by eating biscuits in his cell, and he died shortly afterwards. He was 26 years old.
We’ve had more than 20 years of Reconciliation. Our leaders speak out, our academics map pathways to change. Every time we lose one of our own, our people march in the streets. Our writers, filmmakers, painters and musicians tell our stories. They are the most productive, the most creative artists in the country. Somehow we’re still unseen. Our history of police killings is still unknown. The page of injustice is turned, and the statistics revealed to a blind eye because it apparently doesn’t happen here.
Around the country Aboriginal people are now organising protests in solidarity with those across the United States, precisely because we do understand their pain and anger. Maori activists in Aotearoa, and native peoples in the United States and Canada are doing the same.
The aim of us all is to expose, and to have understood, the structural racism that underpins these events. To see that these minor incidents escalate into death sentences because racism causes those of us with the power of life and death, to miscalculate, and to overreact. It makes us hood and shackle a child in Don Dale, or to trip, and slam the head of a 16-year-old into the concrete in Redfern.
Most of all, it leaves those of us with goodwill looking for a pathway out. Looking to a future where we can co-exist as equals, having settled the injustice of the past and the prejudice of the present. Where the destruction of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, is weighed equal to blowing up a 46,000-year-old sacred site in the Pilbara to expand an iron ore mine.
At the federal level, white Australia has again turned its backs on us. The Statement from the Heart, a very reasonable call for a Voice to parliament, celebrated its third anniversary last week. For three years this proposal has been ignored by politicians but we celebrate that this straightforward and just response will not die in the hearts of fair-minded Australians.
In Victoria, we are now on the path to developing Australia’s first Treaty with Aboriginal people. This is, we hope, a real and credible opportunity to address the structural issues that impact our people. It is, we hope, the best chance in a generation to fix a system that sees Aboriginal Victorians die 10 years earlier, and imprisoned at rates 12 times higher than the rest of the state.
We have examined these issues before. The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was handed down in 1991. Since then 432 of us have died. That is a rate of more than one per month.
Aboriginal Australians know these statistics. We understand the history that brought us here. What shocks us is when our fellow Australians don’t know and don’t understand.
In the United States, those in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement are now taking a knee, and publicly replicating the iconic protest of American footballer Colin Kaepernick.
We now call on our fellow Victorians to stand in solidarity with us, and take a knee and show your support on social media. We call on the Victorian government, that will soon sit opposite us across the negotiation table, to do the same, and to make clear that the names of our lost ones are not forgotten nor their deaths in vain.
Geraldine Atkinson and Marcus Stewart, Co-chairs of the First Peoples’ Assembly of Victoria. Ms Atkinson is a proud Bangerang woman and Mr Stewart a proud Taungurung man.