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Nationwide rallies take fight for justice to the streets

Giovanni Torre -

Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.

Thousands rallied across Australia on Thursday to call for justice in response to the police officer who killed Yamatji woman JC being found not guilty of murder.

The protests took place in Geraldton and every major Australian city.

In Perth, on the steps of Western Australia's parliament house, Bernadette Clarke, JC's sister, joined many other speakers.

Noongar Elder Ben Taylor welcomed the protest of more than 1,000 people.

"I have been standing on these steps for 38 years and I am still standing here," he said outside Parliament House.

"Our people are dying in custody and at the hands of police. We never said 'not guilty', but an all-white jury did. We never got a say. We will keep fighting for justice."

Megan Krakouer from the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project said they expected the number of Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission ended in 1991 to rise to 600 by 2025.

"We have almost 500 people, dying in prison and in police custody. We predict it will be 600 by 2025 â€" that's 600 of our families losing someone."

More than 430 Indigenous people have died in police custody since the end of the Royal Commission. No convictions have ever been secured in relation to any of those deaths.

Krakouer read out the 11 demands of the protest, which included an independent investigation â€" with substantial First Nations representation â€" of deaths in custody; mass government investment in educational, therapeutic and restorative programs in prisons; mandatory use of the Custody Notification Service every time and Indigenous person is taken into custody and an end to homelessness among Indigenous people.

It also demanded for all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody to be implemented "to full scale".

Yamatji man Sandy Davies said JC was "aunty to five of my grandchildren and to three of my great-grandchildren".

"Every time we have a death in custody we come to the steps of Parliament and we go home, and they do nothing because they think we will go away, having spilt our grief. Not this time â€" not this time," he said.

"Recently a man with a sword, or machete â€" he was tasered by police, not shot. Another man, he was shot and killed but only after he had been tasered and pepper sprayed. But in Geraldton it took him a few seconds from the moment he got out of his car to shoot to kill.

"There is not a jury in this state that will ever have the nerve to convict [a police officer for killing an Aboriginal person]. If it could not happen with this, with the video â€" we got video evidence, and he is still walking around.

"My niece Ms Dhu, she was dragged around that cell like a rag doll and killed. Mr Ward was baked and roasted in the back of that van â€" can you imagine the pain? We want change."

Davies emphasised that government needed to listen, and that those in solidarity "are not going away".

"We have plans in place. If people think our families are going to sit on our arse and fret for ten years they are in for a shock," he said.

"The only people who can make the change is the government. We want the Minister of Police, we need the Attorney General to come out here and talk to us."

Davies urged unity among all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

"They say 'look at those blackfellas all divided'... We have got to do it together."

Bernadette Clarke said there had been "no justice".

"At the end of the day a white man can shoot a black man and it's been going on for so long," Clarke said.

"My sister can't rest in peace, and this man who killed my sister and he walks free. He needs to be held to account."

"We will never get [justice] unless we stand together. We will take it to Canberra next, we will march all over Australia."

Noongar lawyer and academic Dr Hannah McGlade said "we are all suffering for our sister".

"The Ms Wynne inquest has just ended and the coroner said it was alright what those six police did to her. This murder charge was historic, not since 1926 had a police officer been charged with the murder of an Aboriginal person... but when I saw that all white jury my heart sank."

Dr McGlade pointed out the massive police presence at the protest.

"This is the riot squad here today. This was a woman who with mental health problems released from prison with no support. The McGowan government invested $1.6billion into more police, and what was left for our women? It is disgusting and an insult to Aboriginal people," she said.

"For the police commissioner to tell us to respect this verdict â€" our people come from an ancient law where people are punished for wrong doing, but in this law, there's no justice.

"This is an on-going genocide against our people."

WA Police riot squad at protest. Photo by Giovanni Torre.

Long-time activist Gerry Georgatos noted that Aboriginal people in Western Australia are the most incarcerated people in the world, describing the state as "the mother of all jailers."

Mervyn Eades of Ngalla Maya Aboriginal Corporation said the legal system is rigged against Aboriginal people.

"The legal system of Western Australia is not here for us. No one will ever be found guilty â€" no jury, unless our people are there representing you, otherwise they will see what JC's family has seen. What is that little boy [JC's eight-year-old son] going to grow up to think â€" that they can legally kill our people!" Eades said.

"They take that badge and gun and they are the biggest killers around, the criminals have got nothing on them.

"Our people want to see justice in this country. For 200 years they have been locking up our people and killing our people, and taking our children. Nothing has changed."

Robert Eggington of Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation asked "who is going to take away his licence to kill?"

"From the death of young John Pat, in Roebourne, a 16 year old boy whose head was crushed under the boots of the police, many more Aboriginal people have been killed by screws and cops," he said.

"An all-white jury... JC's killer was set free, it has given sanction to every police officer in this country that it is ok â€" you can kill a black man, you can kill an Aboriginal man and there will be no repercussions."

Actor and teacher, Yamatji man Ernie Dingo, told the gathering that "blackfellas are just commodities to these people", referring to the politicians in Parliament House.

"There blokes here have to answer to the people upstairs," he said pointing at police.

"There have been too many deaths in custody, too many deaths that are unwarranted. We can't move on if we don't get answers."

By Giovanni Torre


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