“Or maybe they’ve not even committed a crime at all. They’ve just been detained for their own safety. And this is a penalty we’ve administered almost 400 times in the last 25 years.”
Of those locked up in Australian prisons, 28 per cent are indigenous. That’s despite indigenous Australians making up only 2 per cent of the Australian population.
That means the likelihood of being locked up is 13 times higher for indigenous Australians than for non-indigenous Australians.
WALEED Aly has expressed dismay over Australia’s willingness to accept black deaths in custody. He says “Black Lives Matter” overseas, but Australia is “not at a point where we can fully accept that”.
See previous NACCHO News Alert
The Project host used Friday night’s editorial to tackle the huge number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders being locked up in Australian prisons and the tragic deaths we accept as a normal part of that process reports News Ltd
“I learned in school that the last person to receive the death penalty in Australia was Ronald Ryan, hanged in 1967,” Aly said.
“But the truth is, we still have the death penalty. Clearly death is still a penalty we’re OK with in this country. As long as, one, the person dying is indigenous, and two, their carers don’t illegally murder them outright.
“The difference is, we don’t even need their deaths to be signed off by a court anymore. And rather than their crimes being something serious like murder, sometimes the crime for which they’re dying is failing to pay some fines.
Aly said what happens when indigenous Australians are locked up is the real problem. Like what happened last month to NSW woman Rebecca Maher, who was walking home disoriented and possibly drunk when she was picked up by Maitland Police.
She was locked up and, less than six hours later, was found dead in her cell.
Ms Maher was the first indigenous woman to die in NSW police custody since 2000.
Aly said “there’s no suggestion that police are murdering indigenous Australians” but that a 1991 Royal Commission found about a quarter of indigenous deaths in custody were caused by “external trauma, meaning they died from injuries incurred before they were locked up or while in custody”.
Of all the deaths reviewed, Aly said more than a third were caused by disease, a third by suicide and 10 per cent by alcohol or drug use. But inherent racism played a big role, too.
“In other parts of the world right now, people are protesting that black lives matter. Clearly we’re not at a point where we can fully accept that.”
“But what I want to ask you is, now knowing everything I’ve just told you, do black deaths matter? I really hope the answer is yes.”
Aly is calling on the national rollout of a Custody Notification Service, otherwise known as the CNS. It is a notification service that alerts Aboriginal Legal Services that an Aboriginal person is in custody.
The service is used in NSW but, in Rebecca Maher’s case, was not used because she wasn’t officially arrested. She was held “for her own care”.
Tom Whitty, The Project’s supervising producer, co-wrote Friday night’s editorial.