Black deaths in custody reveal Australian racism

Brisbane:The recent report handed down by the Queensland deputy coroner, Christine Clements, found that Palm Islander, Mulrinji, not only died in police custody on November 19 2004, but also that he died at the hands of the arresting officer.

The coroner’s report is unequivocal on this point: Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley caused Munrunjiâ┚¬Ëœs death. But in Queensland , under the Beattie Labor government, there is one rule for coppers and another for the rest of the population — especially Murris (Queensland Aborigines). Straight after Murrinji’s death on Palm — Hurley was promoted and transferred to a plum posting on the Gold Coast and for the past two years has continued to work as a police officer.

Clement’s report not only accuses Hurley of killing Munjunji but also reveals that members of the Queensland police force conspired to cover up Hurley’s role. The report also found that at the Palm Island watch house there was no attempt to comply to the protocols recommended by the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

While Queensland Murris expect justice and Murunji’s family some closure, Hurley was not relieved of his policing duties at any time during the period since Murunji’s death. Because of the massive outcry over this, even coming from within the Beattie government, Hurley’s lawyers asked that their client be stood down two days before a recent protest march on state parlaiment.

The coroner’s report has now gone before the Director of Public Prosecutions who can recommend any charges that may flow from the its findings.

But the position of Queensland Murris’ is unequivocal: Hurley must be sacked and charged. Any other police officer who played any role in the death of Mulrunjie must also be suspended and charged. The state government must implement all the 40 recommendations handed down by the state coroner

Queensland premier, Peter Beattie, has preached the mantra of due process in this case and the state has stood by its man in blue unconditionally and ignored all demands made over the past two years that the officer should be stood down. This stonewalling and racist approach has also been followed in the Beattie government’s recent decision to dismantle the Department of Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Policy and its refusal to entertain further negotiations on Stolen Wages.

As Indigenous Australians approach the fortieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum — which removed constitutional discrimination against Aboriginal people — it should be noted that that referendum saw the highest YES vote ever recorded in a Federal referendum, with 90.77 per cent voting for change. But forty years on, how does the Queensland government mark this pending anniversary?

The demands of Queensland Murris warrants support. There also needs to be a nationally coordinated campaign that aggressively addresses the massive problems facing indigenous communities– such as on Palm Island — in regard to unemployment, housing, health, education and living standards. There also needs to be a national focus on the 40 recommendations that have been handed down by the state coroner in the Mulrunji case. Programs like Brisbane’s MurriWatch –a cell visitor program covering all city watch houses and run by the Indigenous community — needs to be generalised nationally. Otherwise, while Indigenous communities are being ruled and terrorised by racist cops, more Aborigines will continue to die in police custody.