It is still Reconciliation Week, and Australia is undergoing two major court cases where police have shot dead young Aboriginal people. Yet non-Indigenous people remain wilfully oblivious. We are collectively spending more energy in feeling morally superior to other countries, rather than acting towards national change. Specifically, Australian media lead with stories of “violent unrest,” “violent protests,” and “mayhem” in the USA, instead of focusing on police violence against Black victims and protesters, and providing insightful analysis on similarities to Aboriginal deaths in custody in the Australian context.
Australian social media and public commentary are preoccupied with either dismissing current events as unique to other societies (“only in America”), or posting aghast (rightfully) over police brutality overseas. We do this despite not engaging with long-running campaigns led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. It’s not that we should disengage from world events; #BlackLivesMatter is an important movement that resonates globally and deserves attention. The issue is the disproportionate focus on the USA by Australians. This maintains our perception that police brutality is an American quirk and allows non-Indigenous Australians to ignore local racial justice movements led by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
This post will illustrate how non-Indigenous Australians “other“ national racism, as if it is the abhorrent opposite of our national culture. This is easier than taking the steps we need to address police brutality and racial injustice right here and now.
Police brutality in Glen Innes, New South Wales, against a group of young Indigenous girls. You can hear one of the girls say she’ll comply with police but she wants to call her parents as they’re under 16. The policeman says no. It seems his partner, a woman’s voice off camera, tells the girls to comply: ‘Don’t make it worse for yourselves.’ Policeman says: ‘It already is worse for yourselves.’ Continue reading Police Brutality of Young Aboriginal Girls
In early February in Alabama, USA, police were called to investigate an elderly Indian man simply because he was walking suburban streets. The caller identified Sureshbhai Patel as as a “skinny Black man,” and therefore suspicious. Patel had only recently arrived in the USA to help his son with his newborn baby. He did not speak English, but he complied with the officers as best he could, but he was still thrown violently to the ground. Continue reading Otherness, Racism and Police Violence
Over 1,400 sociologists have signed an open letter protesting police brutality in Ferguson, USA. The letter includes practical measures to address the killing of Michael Brown and mistreatment of protesters in Ferguson. Coordinated by Sociologists for Justice, the letter shows that systemic racism needs to be addressed as well as wider socio-economic and political issues to ensure effective change is enacted.
The book The New Jim Crow outlines how the criminal justice system in America is affected by systemic racism. Additionally, decades of sociological research shows that police officers’ decision-making is affected by racial stereotypes and that better training can address this bias (more links below). Effective change in community policing begins by understanding the effects of the victimisation of people of colour and by addressing the institutional practices that lead to excessive policing of people of colour. Below are the suggestions outlined in the open letter, but I urge you to read the letter in full as it summarises sociological research on race bias in policing. You can also add your name to the open letter, as I have done.
USA: The Nation reports that The New York Police Department data show that 1,800 New Yorkers are stopped by police every day. One fifth of these “stop and frisk” events involve the use of force. This video captures that the racial dimensions of this violence, where two police officers threaten a young man for questioning the motives for their search. The police give no reason for detaining him. Instead, they use racist language, telling the youth that they will break his arm and punch him in the face for questioning their authority. While we only hear a snippet and don’t know the full context, this audio presents a deeply disturbing abuse of power. Click on the link to hear the altercation and read more.