The murder of George Floyd has resonated around the world. Here in Australia crowds numbering in their thousands gathered in the capital cities in a mark of solidarity with those demonstrating in America. Here in Australia ‘Black Lives Matter’ means people identifying themselves as indigenous Australians. And it’s true that the treatment of Aboriginal people since white men took over has far too often been shameful.
But there are two sides (at least) to every argument. Let’s start with the US. As I said last week, the murder of Floyd blew the lid off the pressure cooker of emotion that has been simmering in that country for months. But consider this graph, then play the video where one black man tells it like he sees it.
Here in Australia it’s a little different. Many Australians, while horrified at the public murder of George Floyd, couldn’t see much point in civil unrest in this country. Indeed, large crowds gathered in close proximity would have covid-19 cackling into its cornflakes. And since Aboriginal people over the age of fifty are considered as being at risk, if the virus spreads and is taken back to vulnerable people in Aboriginal communities there may well be a significant death toll. Would that be worth it? Would that be worth trashing all the weeks of unemployment and closed businesses which has brought the virus under some level of control?
Consider, too, that not all Aboriginal people see much point in these demonstrations. Aboriginal academic Dr Anthony Dillon wrote an article for News.com.au. Black Lives Matter protesters in Australia are just ‘rent-a-crowds’.
In that article he states “An Australian Government publication, The Health of Australia’s Prisoners: 2015, states: “Indigenous Australians were no more likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous Australians” and “With just over one-quarter (27 per cent) of prisoners in custody being Indigenous, and 17 per cent of deaths in custody being Indigenous, Indigenous prisoners were under-represented.”
In fact, most deaths in custody are from natural causes. For those wanting details, look at Indigenous deaths in custody: 25 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
The report is available for download. This is the abstract:
Twenty-five years has passed since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC). This paper examines the trends and characteristics of Indigenous deaths in custody since 1991–92, using data obtained through the National Deaths in Custody Program (NDICP). NDICP data show Indigenous people are now less likely than non-Indigenous people to die in prison custody, largely due to a decrease in the death rate of Indigenous prisoners from 1999–2000 to 2005–06. Coinciding with this decrease in the death rate of Indigenous prisoners is a decrease in the hanging death rate of Indigenous prisoners. Monitoring trends and characteristics of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in custody supports the development of proactive strategies addressing this important issue.
Alice Springs councillor Jacinta Price, a proud Indigenous woman, was also unimpressed with the protests, arguing that People only care about Indigenous deaths ‘if there’s a white perpetrator’
There’s something wrong when 27% of people in custody are indigenous – and yet only 3.3% of Australians identify as indigenous. Ms Price pointed out that “70 per cent of Aboriginal men and women incarcerated are incarcerated for acts of violence against their loved ones”. Domestic violence, child abuse, petrol sniffing, alcoholism, drug abuse, unemployment, and a dependence on welfare are all major issues in Aboriginal communities. They must be addressed if those figures are to change. And that will require the cooperation and participation of Aboriginal people.
Minister for Indigenous Australians Ken Wyatt (himself of Aboriginal descent) was reported in The Australian newspaper as saying “reducing the number of indigenous people in contact with the justice system, through addressing the underlying factors that lead to offending, is just as key in addressing the number of deaths in custody.”
One final word on this issue – I found this story in the Financial Review newspaper about black deaths in custody in general, and the death of David Dungay in particular, compelling. In Australia, Black Lives Do Matter.
For this week’s pretty pictures here are some Australian waterfalls.
I love waterfalls. Actually, I just love water. It soothes my soul. And after the last few months soothing is nice. Don’t you agree?