Today, the NSW Police Minister made two comments of note. The first was laughably incorrect, the second was absolutely terrifying.

 

 

This morning, the NSW Police Minister, David Elliott attacked a group of primary school students for hanging a Black Lives Matter poster in the wake of the George Floyd ruling. Sensationally, Elliott made the case that children were being brainwashed with anti-police propaganda, and he would be pursuing an apology from the teacher involved.

The poster, shared by GetUp! media advisor Alex McKinnon on Twitter, asks us to ‘Stop Killer Cops’ surrounded by hashtags calling for #JusticeNow and #BLM. Elliott, speaking on a morning breakfast show, said that “we don’t have a race problem here in Australia”, and we should “stop trying to teach our kids what is going on overseas is the way it happens in Australia”.

 

 

Crucially, Elliott also said that “I don’t want taxpayers’ money going into an alleged education where children are going to walk away thinking that police are somehow racist”.

 

 

I’m not suggesting that the Police Minister doesn’t have a clue, or indeed, is not telling the truth, but his statements only make sense if you disqualify the reality we First Nations people face.

In January, The Guardian’s Michael McGowan noted that while 96 children were searched in 2020, a disproportionate number of those searched (about 21%) were Indigenous, including one case in which an 11-year-old was strip-searched by police. The data also revealed that Indigenous Australians of all ages continue to be disproportionately subjected to the practice.

Karly Warner of the NSW Aboriginal Legal Service told the outlet that “forcing a child to remove their clothes is deeply intrusive, disempowering and humiliating, and especially for Aboriginal people who have too often been targets of discrimination and over-policing…the excessive use of strip-searching is causing extreme emotional and psychological harm…an unclothed and traumatic early encounter with police is something that children will have to deal with long after they’re allowed to put their clothes back on. It is unjust, it violates children’s rights, and it undermines the relationship that police have with children.”

In February, a 57-year-old Corrective Services NSW officer presented at Lismore police station on 5 February 2021 and was charged with manslaughter over the 15 March 2019 shooting death of Wiradjuri man Dwayne Johnstone, who was a detainee in the custody of the prison guard.

On the day of the fatal shooting, Johnstone had appeared in the Lismore Local Court and was denied bail over an assault charge. He later suffered a possible epileptic seizure in the holding cell at the courthouse and two Corrective Services officers took him to Lismore Base Hospital for treatment.

Johnston was being taken back to a van as he left the hospital when he elbowed an unarmed guard and made a break for it. The 43-year-old was handcuffed and shackled as he attempted to escape. And the other officer fired three shots, hitting him in the lower back with the third, which proved fatal.

As is the procedure with custodial deaths, a coronial inquiry followed. And in an unprecedented move, NSW state coroner Teresa O’Sullivan called a halt to the inquest in late October last year, as she referred the matter to the DPP to consider whether charges should be laid.

The decision to charge the guard with manslaughter is groundbreaking. It marks the first time a corrections officer has faced a substantial charge in relation to a First Nations custodial death.

A lack of accountability has long marked the aftermath of Aboriginal deaths in custody. Despite the Royal Commission into this continuing crisis handing down 339 recommendations in 1991, there have now been over 440 First Nations custodial deaths since the inquiry tabled its report.

Later the same month, undercover officers in the Sydney suburb of Parramatta were recorded assaulting a First Nations minor.

As Paul Gregoire of The Big Smoke wrote at the time: “On hearing yelling from an enclosed shopping area around the local station, a member of the public started filming as they made their way up a small flight of stairs to where the noise was coming from. There, they encountered three undercover officers and a young boy in their custody. The handcuffed Indigenous youth is screaming, as one officer has an extremely tight grip on his left wrist from behind. A number of young passers-by, as well as those known to the youth, plead with the officers to ‘stop hurting’ him. But two of the plainclothes officers blankly stare on – like they’ve heard it all before – while a third walks towards another minor filming in an effort to make them stop. The third officer approaches the person filming, waving them on. The cameraperson responds that they won’t move as the colour of the boy’s hand is changing.

“In the background, the police van can be heard approaching with its siren. ‘No. I am not moving,’ the person filming continues. ‘How old is he?’ And another young onlooker calls out, ‘He’s 12.'”

The above exists in the safe vacuum of yet more violence, as NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller famously said in June 2020 that the officer filmed throwing an Indigenous teenager to the ground during an arrest “had a bad day“.

As The ABC put it, “the incident, in which the officer kicked the 16-year-old’s feet from beneath him before dumping the boy to the ground, is now the subject of an internal police investigation, to see whether excessive force was used.”

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Indeed, an important point that Elliott missed is that the school children were protesting the police officers who are killers, with Derek Chauvin being the most contemporary example. However, by claiming that racial bias doesn’t exist, he’s merely illuminating his entitlement, and indeed, how he’s forever been the oppressor, and never the oppressed.

 

 

 

 

 

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