Cutting through the bullshit.

Tuesday, 26 June 2007

Don't waste a minute

The ink is barely dry on reports of the disgraceful acquittal on 20 June of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, killer of Mulrunji, a 36 year old Palm Island Aborigine in November 2004.

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And now, yet another Aboriginal man has died in police custody in north Queensland.

Commissioner Bob Atkinson told a press conference this afternoon the 44-year-old had been travelling in the back of a police car with two officers en route to the Mareeba watchhouse when it is believed he became short of breath and lost consciousness.

"There are no suspicious circumstances whatsoever," Commissioner Atkinson said.

After a decade of campaigns by the Committee to End Black Deaths in Custody, the ALP government finally convened a royal commission in 1987. The Commission itself was scandalous. One of the first things it did was to refuse to investigate the death of a Western Australian man because he was an ethnic Maori and the terms of reference were cynically worded to restrict investigations not to black deaths, as everyone had demanded, but to ‘Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander’ deaths. Ultimately the commission released reports on each of 99 individual deaths and many more compendious volumes, concluding with some 339 recommendations. None of the recommendations entailed holding police or prison authorities or individual officers responsible to those who died on their watch. Funding was allocated to implement the recommendations. Very few of the recommendations were implemented. Much of the money went into you beaut new watchhouses with closed circuit cameras in the cells. Blacks have continued to die in custody out of all proportion with their numbers in the population. Wikipedia writes,

Since the Royal Commission, the numbers of Aboriginal deaths in custody has been roughly commensurate with the fraction of prison inmates who are Aboriginal. It is now therefore not clear whether (a) there never was a widespread problem, other than one or two isolated (but nevertheless very significant) incidents, such as the Eddie Murray incident, or (b) there was once a widespread problem, but it has been cleaned up as a result of the Royal Enquiry.

This misses the point entirely. Even in the 1980s, the proportion of Black prisoners dying in custody was not very different to the proportion of white prisoners dying in custody. The point is that many more Blacks than whites seem to find their way into police and prison custody, at least in proportion to their population. This is very mysterious, as everyone knows that the Australian police don’t have a racist bone in their bodies. Hurley was, accordingly, the first cop charged in relation to a Black death in custody.

So why would anybody entertain the slightest suspicion when a Blackfella in the back seat of a cop car with two cops just coincidentally is believed to have become short of breath and lost consciousness.

To demonstrate their concern at what Police Minister Judy Spence described as a ‘tragedy’, she and Commissioner Atkinson are flying off to New Zealand for a police conference. The two officers, believed to be a Senior Constable and a Sergeant remain on duty.

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