3 June 2020
Black Lives Matter. Aboriginal Lives Matter. Black Deaths in Custody Must Stop.
We are all responsible for shaping the world that our children are born into. The Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention (CBPATSISP) at the University of Western Australia stands with those protesting for justice worldwide and are committed to challenging all forms of racism and State violence.
We stand in solidarity and great sorrow for the death of George Floyd who was killed by police in Minneapolis on the 25 of May 2020. We also extend our heartfelt sympathy and respect to the family of David Dungay, an Aboriginal man who died while being restrained by five prison guards. We share the outrage and acknowledge the re-traumatisation felt by the families and communities of these men in the wake of the death of George Floyd.
There are similarities between how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in Australia, and African American, Black American and Native American peoples in the United States of America, are treated by the justice system and law enforcement. In Australia, incidents of Indigenous deaths by the hand of the State do not gain international attention. We can demand justice, and challenge systemic racism and police brutality, using the uprising in the United States as a catalyst for worldwide change.
The impacts of colonisation, oppression, contemporary systemic racism, and police brutality are global issues as relevant in Australia as in the USA. In the USA, African-Americans are 2.5 times as likely as white Americans to be shot and killed by police officers. In Australia, Aboriginal peoples are 16.5 times more likely to die in custody than white Australians. While the rate of imprisonment in Australia has remained relatively unchanged for non-Indigenous peoples over the last ten years, for Indigenous peoples the imprisonment rate has almost doubled, and continues to rise. The major causes of the rising rates of Indigenous peoples deaths in prison are government failures to follow their own procedures and provide appropriate medical care to Indigenous people in custody.
As they were restrained by officers, George Floyd an African American man from Minneapolis, in the USA, and David Dungay Junior, a Dunghutti man, in Long Bay prison in Sydney, Australia, both pleaded repeatedly “I can’t breathe” before they died. In the disturbing footage of David Dungay’s death, he can be heard saying “I can’t breathe” 12 times whilst being restrained by five officers.
David Dungay is only one of at least 432 Indigenous people who have died in police custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Commission gave over 300 recommendations, yet very few have been effectively implemented. Indigenous Australians are still the most incarcerated people on earth, based on their population ratio. Since the Commission, Indigenous deaths in custody have continued to rise. In the past five years there have been seventeen cases of police brutality, blatant racism, and indifference resulting in the unnecessary and unjust deaths of Aboriginal people in custody. In the thirty years since the Commission, there have been zero convictions as a result of these deaths.
All Australians have a role to play in fighting injustice. White peoples, who benefit from a system that privileges them must work alongside Indigenous peoples to make governments accountable for their actions and force the government to properly implement The Royal Commission’s recommendations. Our education system must teach children about our history of racism, the social and historical determinants that underlie it, how this historical oppression continues, and what each of us can to do stand against racism. If you want to learn more about whiteness and anti-racism, we have included ten actions you can start today, and some additional resources below.
10 Actions You Can Take Today
- Show your solidarity
- Read about the families who have not seen justice for their loved ones killed in custody:
- Go to other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander events throughout the year:
- Educate yourself about systemic racism, Aboriginal disadvantage and white privilege:
- Learn about your Country and the First peoples of your local area, Australia’s Indigenous history, culture, and pride:
- Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies (AIATSIS) map of Indigenous Australia
- Common Ground Sharing First Nations cultures, histories and lived experiences
- Working Together: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Mental Health and Wellbeing Principles and Practice
- Encourage your workplace, university or school to do Indigenous-led cultural competency or Indigenous cultural awareness training, and support their reconciliation journey:
- Support peak bodies and organisations to fight for the rights of Indigenous peoples – eg: NACCHO, KAMS, LAA, Healing Foundation, SNAICC, Lowitja
- Support Indigenous-led local community groups, art galleries, theatre companies:
- Buy from Indigenous suppliers and businesses. Supply Nation is a large database of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.
- Teach people around you as you learn – remember silence implies consent.
Remember that as we continue to fight for justice, it is crucial that we take care of our mental health and wellbeing. This is particularly important for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, who are directly impacted by these injustices, loss and, trauma. Some people will understandably be exhausted and (re)traumatised as we see more deaths and continuing discussions of racism and police brutality online and elsewhere. We have included some important resources to support wellbeing and mental health, including for immediate help below.
Relevant Newspaper Articles
Resources for Wellbeing and Mental Health
Learning More About Systemic Racism, Whiteness, and Anti-Racism
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If you or someone you know needs help or support, you can contact your local Aboriginal Community-Controlled Organisation or
- Lifeline: 131 114
- Kids Helpline: 1800 551 800
- Mensline: 1300 78 99 78
- Beyondblue 1300 22 46 36
- Q Life 1800 18 45 27,
- Open Arms Veterans & Families Counselling 1800 01 10 46
- The National Indigenous Critical Response Service 1800 80 58 01