Introduction by Croakey: A forthcoming coronial inquiry into the death of 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker must address important questions for healthcare, policing and justice systems, suggests a statement by Central Australian Aboriginal Congress, the largest Aboriginal community-controlled health organisation in the Northern Territory.
The Congress statement comes amid calls by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar AO and others for an end to police officers carrying guns in communities, following the recent acquittal of police officer Zachary Rolfe, who shot the young Warlpiri man three times during an attempted arrest in November 2019.
Congress says the coronial inquiry should examine the impact of structural racism in which “once again not a single Aboriginal person was part of the jury in the Supreme Court trial”, as well as investigating why there was no on-call health service in Yuendumu, a community of over 900 people, on the night of the shooting.
“We are also very concerned that a young man was criminalised for leaving an alcohol rehabilitation program a week early to attend an important funeral of a senior elder,” says the Congress statement, reproduced below. “Could he not have been granted leave to attend? This should also be examined by the coronial inquest.”
Statement by Central Australian Aboriginal Congress
Congress stands in solidarity with the Warlpiri people, who have expressed their outrage at the ongoing racism and other injustices that Aboriginal people experience following the verdict on the court case for their young son, brother, cousin and loved one, Kumanjayi Walker.
Congress supports the need for safer community policing in Aboriginal communities. This requires many more Aboriginal community police liaison officers working alongside police to ensure Aboriginal people are treated in a safe way. It also requires enough police living in community who get to know the community they serve so that there is less reliance on “fly in fly out” police responses.
We stand in solidarity with the need for equity in the justice system in accordance with the recommendations of the NT Law Reform Commission inquiries. The 2013 review of the Juries Act made many recommendations to ensure Aboriginal Territorians are represented on our juries.
The failure to implement these recommendations has led to the situation where once again not a single Aboriginal person was part of the jury in the Supreme Court trial. This is an overt expression of structural racism that has been dubbed “The White Elephant in the Room: Juries, Jury Arrays and Race” from a leading NT criminal lawyer.
It is also important that there is a more indepth and complete examination of what occurred, through the forthcoming coronial inquest as the rules of evidence are not as restrictive.
This inquest should also examine the decision making that led to the absence of an on call health service in Yuendumu, a community of over 900 people, on the night of the tragic death.
We echo the sadness and anger at the continuing over-representation of Aboriginal people in incarceration, and the still-growing numbers of Aboriginal deaths in custody.
We are also very concerned that a young man was criminalised for leaving an alcohol rehabilitation program a week early to attend an important funeral of a senior elder. Could he not have been granted leave to attend? This should also be examined by the coronial inquest.
We admire the strength and resolve of the families and loved ones of Kumanjayi and thank them for reminding us that this young man was much more than the person that has been portrayed by some sections of the media.
Watch the video retweeted by the Centre of Best Practice in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Suicide Prevention here.
See Croakey’s archive of stories on racism and health.
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