Community leaders have gathered in Geraldton, 400 kilometres north of Perth, to demand systemic changes following the fatal police shooting of Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke.
Geraldton Regional Aboriginal Medical Service (GRAMS) held a press conference with the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA (ALSWA), the National Justice Project, and the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, stating they wanted to ensure that there would not be another police shooting.
Ms Clarke died last month after being shot in the stomach by a police officer. Not only had her death raised questions about the use of the firearm, but also about the lack of mental health services in the town, which has a high Aboriginal population.
GRAMS chairperson Sandy Davis today told a news conference that Ms Clark’s death had devastated the local Aboriginal community.
“Many of us, as Aboriginal people, are distraught, and a lot of our people are afraid,” Mr Davis said.
He said WA's mid-west region has been struck hard by the suicide epidemic, which has taken large numbers of the youth. He said there have been seven suicides, with two in the last six days.
Geraldton is the largest centre in the WA's Mid-West and service providers state they are strained to keep up with the needs of the population.
In 2017, the state government closed down the Geraldton sobering up centre stating low numbers of admissions. Currently, there are no after-hours services available and locals need to call the police if they need assistance between the hours of 4.30pm to 8.30am.
Deborah Woods, the chief executive of GRAMS, has asked for both the state and federal government to increase their funding to the region.
"It's excruciatingly long overdue for every inch of Governments to support the strong peak Aboriginal bodies in the region to bring on the equality,” Ms Woods said.
“The only way forward is for peak bodies such as GRAMS, to be resourced to implement primary and secondary services but culturally appropriate, so our suffering peoples are reached.”
GRAMS and their supporters have also recommended that mental health professionals be the first respondents in welfare checks.
Mr Davis said that it was evident in how the police handled Ms Clarke that they had no negotiation skills.
“If we had the 24 hour services, we’d (GRAMS) be the first respondents,” he said.
George Newhouse, principal solicitor of legal advocacy group the National Justice Project, said that health workers should be called in a medical crisis, rather than the police.
“We know the police have a tough job. There’s something very wrong in the way the police treat Aboriginal people in Western Australia,” Mr Newhouse said.
“It must end here. We should not see another death like this again.”
There are two ongoing investigations into Ms Clarke’s death. The WA police commissioner has promised a thorough investigation and said there will be no “cover up”.