• Warlpiri community will gather peacefully outside court as the police officer charged with the murder of Kumanjayi Walker prepares to plead not guilty (NITV)Source: NITV
Almost ten months after he was fatally shot in a remote central desert community, Kumanjayi Walker's family will find out whether the police officer charged with murder will be put on trial in the Supreme Court.
Rachael Hocking

31 Aug 2020 - 7:46 PM  UPDATED 1 Sep 2020 - 1:20 PM

On Tuesday morning on the lawns outside of Alice Springs Local Court, Kumanjayi Walker’s family and community - as well as supporters from surrounding central desert communities - will gather peacefully as the police officer charged with the murder of their loved one prepares to plead not guilty.

The gathering, like many before it, will include home-made shirts and signs declaring “Justice for Walker” with the red-stained handprint which has become a symbol of the Warlpiri community’s fight for justice.

Inside the court over the next four days, Judge John Birch will decide if there is enough evidence to put the Constable on trial for murder in the Supreme Court.

Senior Warlpiri man Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves said the date has been a long time coming.

“This week’s really important because the Luritja, Pintubi, the Warlpiri families are seeking to see justice," Mr Hargraves told NITV News. 

“It’s been a long, long wait and the community have finally got something that we as a community can feel at ease."

“Hopefully we’ll get some answers.”

The 19-year-old was fatally shot at his home in the community of Yuendumu, around 300km north-west of Alice Springs on November 9 last year.

Within four days a murder charge was laid.

In the time between then and now, coronavirus has drastically impacted how the legal teams for both sides can collect evidence and whether community can gather at court mentions.

Proceedings might not be live streamed to Yuendumu

Despite strong community interest in this week’s committal hearing, court proceedings may not be live streamed to Yuendumu from Alice Springs Local Court.

In a last-minute application crown prosecutor Philip Strickland, supported by the defence, said there was potential for community members who may be called as witnesses, to have their evidence contaminated.

Judge Birch will decide on Tuesday morning what action to take: whether certain community members will not be allowed into the room at Yuendumu Police station where the live-stream will play, whether parts of the hearing won’t be live-streamed when it includes key witnesses, or whether the live-stream will be axed all together.

“[If] I gave a direction that the proceedings were not be streamed to that location, then effectively, members of the Yuendumu Community would not be able to be informed about what would be taking place,” Judge Birch said.

“And I can’t see that that would be in the interests of justice.”

Mr Hargraves told NITV News that it was not a major concern if a video-link is not made to Yuendumu, because community members would be informed what occurs in court by those who sit-in, including by himself.

Alice Springs Local Court’s bandwidth only supports a small number of video-links, which means there won’t be a live-stream accessible to journalists and members of the public.

The Yuendumu community has faced a series of obstacles in their bid to see justice - from delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, to the cost of fuel and bus tickets to get from remote locations to Alice Springs, and an early attempt by the defence to move proceedings 1500km north to Darwin.

Coronavirus travel restrictions have meant many community members were unable to attend court mentions in Alice Springs earlier in the year. They also prevented community from holding important face-to-face meetings with Elders like Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves.

Within a month of Mr Walker's death Mr Hargraves brought together community members to form the Warlpiri Parumpurru [Justice] Committee.

That Committee, made up of men and women in both senior and youth roles in community, has been leading calls to have guns removed from Yuendumu and a return to yapa [Aboriginal] governance in the central desert region.

"This week we still going to be saying: ‘We want no guns right across the NT, especially in remote communities," Mr Hargraves said.

“They have no place in community.”

‘Yapa Lives Matter’

The death in custody of African-American man George Floyd in May re-invigorated the global Black Lives Matter movement and calls for a re-think of policing and justice systems.

That movement has found its place amongst the many families of Black deaths in custody in Australia.

The national rallies in June heard statements read out on behalf of the family and community in Yuendumu and saw signs with the Warlpiri translation for Black Lives Matter: Yapakurlangu Warnkaru Matters.

Mr Walker’s cousin Samara Fernandez spoke to a crowd of hundreds on Kaurna country in Adelaide saying George Floyd’s death had “resurfaced a whole bunch of pain for my family and I”.

“We are struggling with our emotions. We are struggling to stay strong and we are struggling to understand how in 2020 we are still battling,” she said.

At the time Mr Walker’s grandmother Margaret Brown shared her grief with the family of Mr Floyd in a statement.  

“We are feeling the pain for his family. We support them all the way from our remote community of Yuendumu in Australia,” she said.

“That video made my stomach sick and it made me think of my grandson. I am still heartbroken.”