Confronting systematic racism is difficult for anyone to do; part of my desire to write this article series is to examine my feelings towards our police forces. As an Australian Aboriginal the majority of my people have had exceedingly strained relations with this department. My dealings have for the most part been pleasant, a few obnoxious teenager moments come to mind but I have never been arrested or fined by police for any reason. Personally I attribute that mainly to the strong morals my parents drummed into me as most of us do. However I have a family member who was an employee within the law enforcement industry, and not just any position he was an Assistant-Commissioner who began his career straight out of school. Meaning there has always been a police presence in my life. My family relationship often leaves me heavily conflicted when an Aboriginal death occurs in custody; though that is a poor word choice for the feelings such loss of life cause. Shock freezes every muscle, raging anger makes me see red and not in a metaphorical sense, deep depressive sadness that drives bone deep, and the inexplicable disappointment in both my government and fellow citizens for not doing better.
Australia saw the results from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down when I was a child, but 474 more Indigenous People have lost their lives whilst in custody. Movements such as ‘Say Their Name’ have been a huge contributor in raising awareness for black deaths in custody overseas. Unfortunately we have cultural sensitives raising barriers to this becoming an established movement for the First Australians. During these campaigns I read a comment on social media that stated “Don’t bury them twice”. I was overcome with emotion by that simply line, often it is the most simple of messages that cut through the noise and this one was no different for me. It has stuck with me, and the Indigenous families who have granted permission for members of the public to use the name of their deceased loved ones, I include this tag when I promote the advocacy work calling for justice for these deaths.
Australia has seen the calls to ‘Defund the Police’, my first reaction was confusion when the calls began, something I think a large percentage of ‘Colonial Thinkers’ can relate to. But after reading about what the predominant majority were calling for, I was less inclined to take the hashtag name at face value as I am sure most have done. Numerous individuals who fall on the ‘for’ side of this action do not want less policing. They are calling for the establishment of community based services to be involved in calls that would benefit from such professionals. Occurrences of Domestic Violence are arguably the predominant callout reason for law enforcement across Australia. Launching networks to combat the cycles that see the return of police, creating less punitive and more social prevention actions; develops a system that will eventually reduce the number of interactions with law enforcement and these demographics all together.
Australian’s have all seen the reports DV is one of the problems within our society, sadly it is often used as a tool to punish or victimise our people with the racial discrimination Aussies deny exist. Statistically speaking an Indigenous woman is 30% times more likely to experience extreme physical assaults at the hands of their partners, and they are 10 times more likely to die as a result of the injuries they sustain. Many of these attacks are unable to be prevented by law enforcement as they are not positioned in every town as some believe they are. Often times they are located in towns over 20 minutes away. Many women do not need to imagine what could happen if police were this far from their homes; and that is if they were free to attend immediately. Because, officers in regional and remote regions often only have a small team whom are stretched between numerous towns spread over vast distances.
Now for the readers who are from an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander background (or indeed others who have been racially vilified) please know I am not attempting to apologise or provide a scape goat for the systematic racism found within our police system. My words here are my way of working through my knowledge and feelings about what happens in this country. Because, I believe that with greater funding we would enable a better system capable of supporting a permanent police presence in all Aussie communities the crime rates would be rapidly reduced. Add to that the calls mentioned above regarding including social services alongside our justice institutions would create a range of advancements that benefit all Australians. Decreasing the rates of Domestic Violence and other crimes in Aboriginal communities improves the justice system by unclogging many of the cases currently seen before judges. Frees up police to engage in crimes that do not require social services, and reduced the demands on the medical industry. Including community services alongside the police will likewise improve the employment complications plaguing Australia’s economic growth since Covid-19.
Australian society is standing at a precipice of women’s rights regarding sexual violence, can we include systematic racism into that same pool? Defund the Police calls for improved social services across the law enforcement system, but it also includes greater transparency when it comes to data such as racial profiling. Australia is one of the few countries who do not track this information, at least not in a public sense. Anthony Albanese has recently suggested businesses publically report the gaps between wages for men and women in an attempt to reduce the differences. Generations of Indigenous People have made that argument with regards to racial profiling statistics from within the legal system.
My second aim of writing this article was to challenge the Australian Police Forces of all the states and territories. I’d like to see them choose a region of their community with high Domestic Violence statistics and initiate a program such as the worldwide Defund the Police movement has suggested. Employ community service professionals to attend the callouts and establish networks capable of supporting citizens rather than purely punishing them for traumatic situations that are a plague across all areas of Australian society and release regular racial profiling statistics. Bureaucrats could sit around discussing the pros and cons of such a process for years, but, the only way to really have any sort of statistical evidence to base an opinion upon would be to instigate such a program.
Are Australian’s up to the challenge? Can the “Lucky Country” be a world leader in the way in law enforcement reforms?