Black Lives Matter protests spark effective Australian demonstrations

The American Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement has caused homegrown protests with thousands of Australians campaigning against Aboriginal deaths in custody.

Australia’s protest groups started the country’s own BLM movement after the death of African American man George Floyd on May 25 last year in Portland, America.

The Australian Human Rights Commission said the death of Mr Floyd in custody and the violence that erupted in America reminds Australians of the unacceptably high rates of deaths in prison of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Indigenous Social Justice Association secretary Raul Bassi, who organised the vigil for George Floyd at the Sydney Town Hall on June 6, said between 20,000 and 40,000 people attended the protest and it was the biggest number he had seen in Sydney since the Invasion Day march.

“People don’t care about Aboriginal people, they don’t understand how they can live 20 years less than the rest of the population,” said Mr Bassi.

“David Dungay was attacked by six guards in Long Bay jail and…he started to say ‘I can’t breathe’, George, what happened with the police in the neck…he was saying exactly the same. ‘I can’t breathe’.”

“If we respond, if we make enough noise, they are going to be careful…what they do.”

“I hope one day the white people of this country understand the fact that the white people have an advantage in this country is on the basis of the tragedy of the Aboriginal people.”

“Whatever is worth [something] in this country is coming from the land and the land like it or not [belongs] to the Aboriginal people,” he said.

The United States Department of Justice Attorney General William P. Barr said, “the video images of the incident that ended with the death of Mr Floyd, while in custody of Minneapolis police officers, were harrowing to watch and deeply disturbing.”

Warriors of Aboriginal Resistance (WAR), organisers of the Melbourne BLM protest on June 6, said roughly one Aboriginal has died every month in prison over the last 30 years.

WAR said that no police or prison officer has been held accountable for the 438 deaths in prison since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Media advisor for climate change activist group Extinction Rebellion Victoria, James Norman said the Australian Black Lives Matter protests were inspired by what happened in America and the tradition of non-violent protest.

Mr Norman said that we need to work closely with Indigenous people and put them at the centre of the movement.

“I think the whole world was shocked when those images came out and sparked this current rise of protest so that has definitely led to a huge increase in those issues being expressed directly on the streets globally and I do think that’s a good thing,” said Mr Norman.

According to the Australian Institute of Criminology data, Indigenous deaths in prison custody have been consistently lower than death rates of non-Indigenous prisoners since 2003-04.

Minister for Indigenous Australians, Ken Wyatt said that every death in custody is a tragedy, and there was no simple solution, the factors that contribute to high Aboriginal incarceration rates need to be addressed such as health, education, and employment.

The Morrison Government is pledging $2.1 million over three years to “establish a formal Custody Notification Service (CNS) in Victoria…a critical step in ensuring culturally appropriate care is provided to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people detained by police,” Mr Wyatt said.

The Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service currently has an informal CNS and will deliver the expanded system.

A CNS will be established in NT and WA and the Morrison Government is continuing to fund the CNS in NSW and the ACT, with a total investment of $3.4 million next financial year.

The Australian Human Rights Commission regularly updates the public about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice issues.