Lex Wotton, the heroic Palm Islander who was jailed after leading protests against racist police violence, is set to break a long silence.
He has confirmed his intention to speak at the Marxism 2014 conference in Melbourne next weekend, 17-20 April.
In 2008 Wotton was sentenced to seven years’ prison, reduced to six for time already served, for his role in a 2004 protest. The protest occurred after Mulrunji Doomadgee was killed in the Palm Island police station. During the protest, the police station and courthouse were burned to the ground.
Wotton was released on parole in July 2010, but onerous conditions barred him from speaking to the media about his case.
Standing against murder
On 19 November 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee suffered injuries consistent with those of a car crash victim – four broken ribs, a ruptured liver and a ruptured spleen – in the Palm Island watchhouse.
The local community was told on 26 November that Mulrunji had “probably tripped on a step”. His grieving friends, relatives and neighbours could see that a cover up was in motion.
A furious crowd of several hundred people marched to the cop shop and courthouse. They threw rocks at the buildings, and yelled out to the police cowering inside: “Racists!” “Captain Cook c*nts!”
Inside, the cops counted their bullets and discussed shooting their way out. Later, they laughed and joked among themselves. They played for time and left in a group. No one was injured.
After the police had left, protesters set fire to the station, the courthouse and the sergeant’s house, as payback for Mr Doomadgee’s killing.
In response, the Queensland government sent the anti-terrorist squad, attack dogs, plainclothes detectives and extra police officers to arrest the alleged perpetrators. The main target was Lex Wotton. He was arrested and tasered in a dawn raid by more than 50 cops.
Wotton, a community leader, plumber and father of four, has previously described how the police worked to build up the non-existent case against him, leaning on his co-accused and on people who weren’t even at the rally to make statements accusing him of arson and all kinds of other crimes.
He told a meeting before his trial: “I’m the scapegoat... There was outrage from the community [over Mulrunji’s death]”. The community’s protest at yet another young man dead at the hands of the police was maligned. Wotton was found guilty of rioting with destruction.
Cops off the hook
Christopher Hurley, the cop who killed Mulrunji, was the first police officer in 20 years to face trial for the death of an Aboriginal person in custody. Deputy state coroner Christine Clements found that Hurley had fatally assaulted Doomadgee. But a white judge and all-white jury in Townsville eventually acquitted him of manslaughter and assault. He received $100,000 in compensation and in 2008 successfully appealed to have the results of the Coronial Inquiry overturned.
Thirty-four police officers who were on Palm Island at the time of the protests received awards or commendations for “bravery”. They include Darryn Robinson, a detective and a mate of Hurley’s. Robinson was the person Hurley called when he realised Doomadgee was dead. He flew to Palm Island and ran the initial “investigation” into his mate. Robinson has admitted that he lied under oath at the inquest.
For years, Lex was prevented from speaking out. And the media have been reluctant to tell his story – and the story of Mulrunji. Now Lex is going to break the silence. Don’t miss it.
Lex will be speaking as part of a panel at Marxism 2014 opening night, 6:30 pm on Thursday 17 April. He will then speak at 4pm Saturday 19 April after a screening of The Tall Man – a documentary about the murder of Mulrunji Doomadgee.