It is shameful that the first inhabitants of this land continue to die in custody. Australia is witnessing a new epidemic of these deaths. It is a disgrace. Something must be done about this disgrace.
Deaths in custody are part of the widespread disadvantage, wrecking of traditional culture and racist treatment by the police. Those who die get the worst of it. There are also all those other who don’t die but still end up suffering because of their race.
This was brought home to me by Noongar woman, Keennan Dickie, who courageously spoke out about what happened to her after she called the police to report that she had been assaulted and robbed.
Because her mobile phone had been taken, she went to make the call from a nearby fast food outlet. According to her, the police who came questioned her, took not of her injuries, said she had some outstanding fines, and then took her to the police station. They told her she could report on the assault after she had paid the fines.
She was locked up for hours then told to return to the police the next day, to sort out the fines and report her assault.
It turned out that she had a broken rib, confirmed by an X ray, and a few lesser injuries.
Next day Keennan went to the Mirrabooka Police Station as she had been instructed.
She was taken into custody and then transferred to Melaleuca Women’s Prison. It was the fines again, even though she had voluntarily gone to the police station. The assault was ignored again.
Keennan found freedom after two days, thanks to the intervention Sisters Inside.
The assault was never dealt with, and her injuries were ignored.
It didn’t stop here. Although the West Australian police have admitted that the officers initially came to the scene over a reported assault, there was a failure to explain why it hasn’t been dealt with.
At least a bill is to be introduced to change the law and stop people from being imprisoned for not paying fines. But this doesn’t solve the fact of systematic abuse of First Nations people at the hands of the police.
Keennan Dickie would not have been treated in the same way if she had not been a First Nations person.
It is this systematic mistreatment that lies behind the deaths in custody
This is what’s got to be fixed.