What do we want?


Youth protest police shooting of two unarmed Aboriginal teenagers in Sydney.Photo by Peter Boyle.

This is based on a short speech I made on behalf of Socialist Alliance at the April 24 emergency rally called by the Indigenous Social Justice Association to protest the shooting and bashing of two unarmed Aboriginal teenagers in Sydney’s Kings Cross on the previous Sunday.

* * *

I read in the newspaper today that Assistant Police Commissioner Mark Murdoch said: ”We have significant responsibilities in the use of firearms. One of them is not shooting at tyres.”

You get that? The police have a responsibility not to shoot at car tyres! But what about shooting unarmed 14-year-olds? What are your responsibilities there Assistant Police Commissioner?

What about shooting an unarmed 17-year-old Aboriginal youth in the neck and then punching him repeatedly in the head while he could have been bleeding to death on the footpath?

That’s what we saw from the film footage captured by a bystander. That’s what the whole world saw. So what are the responsibilities of the police about this sort of behaviour?

And who is going to investigate this horrible incident? The police? The police investigating the police yet again?

And what sort of justice can we expect from that?

At the very minimum we need a thorough, independent and public inquiry into this.

And the people responsible for this outrage must be held to account.

And in the meantime why do we have to have a society where every policeman and policewoman goes around armed, with guns and tasers that can kill? Guns and tasers that can and are mis-used because they all have them.

There are countries where most police don’t carry guns. They have an armed response group to be deployed only in situations that require armed police. Why don’t we have that sort of system here in Australia? People will be safer if we did.

This  is the very least you’d expect from any society that respects justice.

You’d also expect the reaction of the society as a whole to the shooting and bashing of these Aboriginal teenagers last Sunday to be one of outrage and of anger. That is the normal response of anyone who saw the shocking footage of the incident. That is the normal response of anyone with a sense of humanity and human solidarity.

Instead, in this country we are told not to be angry, not to be outraged. Bad stuff can happen if you are in a stolen car, one mainstream media commentator said. Don’t blame the police who are only doing their job. And the politicians mostly echo this message.

Well a lot of “bad stuff” happens to Aboriginal people in this country doesn’t it?

Bad stuff like:

• Aboriginal people are 14.3 times more likely to be put in prison than non-indigenous Australians. One in four prisoners are Aboriginal. But they make up just 2.5% of Australia’s population.

Bad stuff like:

• The number of imprisoned young Aborigines (between 10 and 17 years of age) increased by more than 20% in 2009-2010 compared to the previous year and the average detention rate of young Aborigines is 25 time that of young non-Aborigines.

Bad stuff like:

• There have been more than 400 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1980, one death in custody per month or more than 13 deaths per year. Yet less than a third of the 339 recommendations handed down in 1991 by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody have been implemented.

Bad stuff like:

• Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a life expectancy of up to 17 years less than other people in Australia.

Bad stuff like:

• Babies born to Aboriginal mothers die at twice the rate of other Australian babies, and experience higher rates of preventable illness such as heart disease, kidney disease and diabetes.

Bad stuff like:

• The Aboriginal unemployment rate is about 18.2% — more than three times that for all Australians.

Bad stuff like:

31% of young Aboriginal people live in overcrowded housing. In remote areas, more than half (58%) of Aboriginal children and youth lived in an overcrowded household.

When such a lot of “bad stuff” keeps happening to Aboriginal people in this country, year after year, decade after bloody decade, then you know the problem is not just about “some bad kids” or “their bad parents”. It is a problem of the system, a racist system that needs to be changed.

The politicians tell us they are “closing the gap”. We don’t see that happening. As far as Aborgines being grossly over-represented in the prison system the gap is growing! And it is growing worse for Aboriginal youth. Thei future is looker worse and worse.

We desperately need justice. We desperately need change. But if there is one thing experience should have thought us by now it is that if we want any justice we are going to have to fight for it. So fight for it we must.

What do we want? Justice!

When do we want it? Now!

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