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‘I can’t breathe!’ Australia must look in the mirror to see our own deaths in custody

Thalia Anthony writes in The Conversation (2.6.20) that, as people across the United States continue to protest the death of African-American George Floyd, many Australians choose not to look at the hundreds of Indigenous deaths in custody here.

'“I can’t breathe, please! Let me up, please! I can’t breathe! I can’t breathe!”

'These words are not the words of George Floyd or Eric Garner. They weren’t uttered on the streets of Minneapolis or New York. These are the final words of a 26-year-old Dunghutti man who died in a prison in south-eastern Sydney.

'David Dungay Jr was killed when prison officers restrained him, including with handcuffs, and pushed him face down on his bed and on the floor. One officer pushed a knee into his back. All along, Dungay was screaming that he could not breathe and could be heard gasping for air.

'Dungay’s death in custody occurred in Long Bay prison during the 2015 Christmas season. It happened a short drive from an elite university, next to affluent, waterside suburbs.

'But his horrific death did little to pierce this white bubble of privilege. The media barely blinked. The politicians did not emerge from their holiday retreats. None of the officers involved were disciplined or called to account.

'It is comfortable for us in Australia to throw stones at racist police violence in the United States. It is comfortable because we do not see our own glass house.'

Instead of demonising Black Lives Matter protesters, leaders must act on their calls for racial justice

Thalia Anthony and colleagues write in The Conversation (28.7.20) that, while there has been some progress on judicial reform in Australia since Black Lives Matter protests began, structural change requires a truth-telling process and a real commitment from government for action.

'The intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement in the US in recent months has led to radical reform and action.

'The police officers responsible for the killing of George Floyd were all charged with serious offences, including one with second-degree murder. The city of Minneapolis voted to replace its police force with a “new system of public safety”, while other cities have slashed their police budgets.

'The BLM and Stop First Nations Deaths in Custody protests across Australia since early June have similarly called for charges against police officers and prison guards responsible for deaths in custody, as well as an end to racialised police violence.

'… Urgent and systemic change is required to claw back decades of extended police powers in NSW under the Law Enforcement Powers and Responsibilities Act and redress the lack of accountability for the 438 First Nations deaths in custody since 1991 and the 99 deaths investigated by the royal commission.

'However, there are internal and external factors preventing this type of structural change.'

 

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