Sonia Hickey

About Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of “Woman with Words”. She has a strong interest in social justice and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers content team.

Nation marches for indigenous teen shot dead by police

Communities are marching for Kumanjayi Walker, the teen shot dead by police, who are offering little about the shooting.

 

 

The family of an Indigenous man shot by police over the weekend at a remote Indigenous community in the Northern Territory are still desperately trying to find out what happened to their son.

19-year old Kumanjayi Walker died after being shot by police officers on Saturday night in Yuendumu, a town about 300 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, with a population fewer than 800 people.

Very few details are known at this stage about the incident. Statements released by the Northern Territory police confirm that Mr Walker was shot in the head during an altercation with officers as they were trying to attest him for ‘a number of outstanding offences’ and died a short time later. It is not clear what the ‘outstanding offences’ are.

On Wednesday night, a 28-year-old police officer was charged with murder over the Walker shooting.

Per Fairfax, “Community members and family of Mr Walker have called for an “independent investigation” into his death and requested to see police bodycam footage from Saturday. They are also calling for the Northern Territory Police to leave the community. Northern Territory Police acting deputy commissioner Michael White has said the incident was being treated as a death in custody but provided few other details, citing the ongoing investigation.”

 

 

Police say Mr Walker was ‘armed with a weapon’ and ‘lunged at officers’, but they have not confirmed what the weapon was, nor have they been able to explain why the officers were using guns instead of other non-lethal weapons such as tasers.

 

A lack of medical support

It is understood that there were no medical staff in the town of Yuendumu over the weekend. Due to a series of recent break-ins, staff had made the decision to leave.

Officers instead performed first aid an ambulance was dispatched from a nearby town, but Mr Walker was dead by the time it arrived.

The family of the victim says they were not notified of his condition – whether he was dead or alive – for at least eight hours after the incident occurred. It also not known whether the custodial notification service (CNS) was alerted that Mr Walker had been taken into custody.

 

Custody Notification System

The CNS service was one of the key recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It is a 24-hour legal advice and RU OK phone line overseen by the Aboriginal Legal Service (ALS) and when contacted, it can arrange legal help or whatever assistance is required to ensure the wellbeing and safety of the person in custody.

This service is supposed to operate nationally, but only the Northern Territory, Western Australia and Victoria have implemented it. New South Wales operates a similar service.

Police have also said that one officer was injured in the incident and two shots were fired, but a woman who witnessed the shooting has told media that she heard three gunshots.

 

 

At present, no decisions have been made about whether the officers involved will be stood down or suspended while the investigation occurs. But additional police have been brought into the town from Alice Springs and Darwin to maintain community safety, and quell potential unrest. At one stage on Saturday evening, about 200 people surrounded the police station where officers had locked themselves in and its understood there is some tension between police and members of the community.

 

 

The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody was held in 1991 – 28 years ago. At its conclusion, the commission made 339 recommendations. A report by Clayton Utz in 2015 found that almost 25 years later, many of these recommendations had not been implemented. Since the Royal Commission, more than 420 Aboriginal deaths in custody have been recorded.

Analysis of these deaths shows that two of the most significant causes of Indigenous deaths in custody are the lack of access to appropriate medical care and the failure of police to follow protocol and procedures.

Only time and proper investigation will determine what caused the death of Kumanjayi Walker… and provide meaningful answers to all of the questions that surround the fact that a 19-year-old was shot in the head by police while they were arresting him.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are proportionally the most incarcerated people on earth. They account for 28% of the prison population in this country, but less than 3% of the overall populace.

 

 

 

 

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