The tragic and preventable injustices suffered by Indigenous Australian woman Ms Dhu deserves urgent international attention.
Earlier this week, the West Australian Coroner found that the death in custody of 22-year old Indigenous woman Ms Dhu was preventable. She was imprisoned for petty fines that White Australians are not jailed for, let alone ultimately die over. The police abuse, which included denying Ms Dhu medical attention as she lay dying and dragging her body “like a dead kangaroo,” was found to be cruel and unprofessional.
Ms Dhu died of respiratory complications due to infection. Ms Dhu was a victim of domestic violence, and like many Indigenous Australians, did not have adequate access to services and support for this trauma and her ongoing health issues.
Trigger warning on the footage: graphic violence. Footage contains images of a deceased Indigenous person.
Ms Dhu’s family fought to have the footage of police brutality released. Her grandmother, Carol Roe (above) says:
“People need to see with their own eyes how my girl was treated. All Australians need to see this footage – we all need to stand together and say enough is enough, no more Aboriginal deaths in custody.”
Systemic Racism in the Justice System
The footage above, which her family wishes to be shared widely, shows how police dragged her body as she lay dying. She was denied medical attention by police officers until long after she lost consciousness. The police insisted that they acted lawfully and dared to emphasise the “distress” of the 16 police officers and one assistant police commissioner in front of Ms Dhu’s grieving family.
Unwarranted concern for the police officer’s feelings was shamefully echoed by Western Australian Premier Colin Barnet, who said: “there was a difficult situation that the police were facing then, a lot of aggression,” despite the evidence showing Ms Dhu showed no aggression. Ms Dhu’s positive disposition remained evident throughout her detainment, despite her agony. Regardless, excessive force by police is never warranted, especially on a sick woman who was imprisoned and outnumbered by police who laughed at her as she begged to be taken to hospital. Social science shows that police accept racist stereotypes of Black and Brown people, which affects their excessively violent treatment of people of colour.
The footage and other evidence from the Coronial Inquest shows Ms Dhu was the only person in distress at the hands of police brutality.
Hospital staff are also answerable for Ms Dhu’s death. Yet no one has been charged over this act of state-sanctioned brutality. Reports say that some of the officers appear to have been promoted since Ms Dhu’s death.
It has taken two years for the Coronial Inquest to be finalised. If this was a White woman, not only would she never have ended up in jail, this case, and the footage would have led to swift national reform of police practices. Australia’s national racism is evident in the relative lack of public action on this case. Ms Dhu’s grandmother, Carol Roe says:
Indigenous Australian Experiences of Inequality
Ms Dhu was a survivor of domestic violence and had health problems that should have been better treated years ago. Systemic racism prevented Ms Dhu from receiving vital services and support that could have prevented her death long before she ended up in custody. The punitive criminal justice and civil systems that lead to Indigenous people disproportionately being imprisoned for unjust fines represents a national crisis.
Indigenous deaths in custody has been a shameful ongoing problem for Australia, even 25 years after a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made recommendations to end practices that lead to systemic racism. Indigenous Australians continue to have poor health, educational outcomes, lack of access to basic services and basic justice due to our ongoing colonial practices.
Despite this history, Australia has gone backwards on justice with excessive incarceration of Indigenous Australians and Indigenous youth tortured in detention, with their incarceration consistently on the rise. Six Indigenous Australians died in custody in the state of Western Australia alone since Ms Dhu’s death.
Take Action: Say Her Name
Ms Dhu’s family are asking for national and international solidarity today, 22 December 2016. Please watch the video and spread Ms Dhu’s story. Demand justice for Ms Dhu and justice for Indigenous families who continue to see case after case exonerated, excused and ignored.
Share Ms Dhu’s family tweets on the CCTV footage and call for solidarity (below). Write about Ms Dhu; tell others about her; call for politicians to make sustained changes to law and policing. Ensure her story does not become just another statistic.