In the 1990s, in Australia, we had the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Death in Custody. We were outraged about how Aboriginal people died while under police ‘protection’ and more than 300 recommendations were made, to set it straight. We were going to take this issue seriously. We were going to be responsible. We were going to care.
In 2004 the Palm Island case unfolded and Chris Hurley became the first, and so far only, police officer to be charged with being responsible for a death in custody. In case you have been hiding under the sofa, he was found not liable. If you want to know all the glory details of this case (and why the outcome was outrageous) you should read a book called “The Tall Man” by Chloe Hopper. It is an awesome read in it’s own right, has won every literary award out there, including the Ned Kelly Award. You really should read this book.
So how are we faring with the Aboriginal death in custody in Australia? Have we started to care? are we taking the 300+ recommendations seriously?
If you have followed this blog from the beginning you know of at least one more death in custody, which no one was held responsible for. But how many others have there been?
Well, hang on to your seats my friends, I have a number for you: since the Royal Commission released its recommendations 270 Aboriginal people have died in custody. TWOHUNDRED AND SEVENTY! I even have a name for the 270th person to die in custody: Mr. Briscoe. He was an Anmatyerre Aboriginal man living in Alice Springs.
Are you OK with that? Because I’m not. I really am not. I am also not OK with the fact that deaths in police custody are not independently investigated (apart from WA). Why is it that custodial facilities are not subject to independent inspections? Why is it that police are investigating police?
How can 270 Australians die and no one be held accountable? I would really like to know. Because I’m not OK with this.