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.
The story of Indigenous Australian woman Ms Dhu deserves international attention. Police were found to be responsible for her death in custody. She was imprisoned for petty fines that White Australians are not jailed for, let alone ultimately die over.
This footage, 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. Hospital staff are also answerable for her 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 the event.
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 national reform of police practices right away. Ms Dhu’s grandmother, Carol Roe says:
“If it was a white kid it would have been over and done with. But we have been fighting for 2 years.”
Ms Dhu was a survivor of domestic violence and had health problems. 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.