Still no justice for John Pat

7 October 2013
Cathy Lewis

After 30 years of fighting for justice, the family of murdered Aboriginal teenager John Pat will finally receive an apology from the WA government.

The 16-year-old was beaten to death by five off-duty police officers in Roebourne who later were cleared of any culpability and returned to active duty.

On 25 September, the WA shadow Indigenous affairs minister moved a motion in parliament calling for an apology for John Pat’s death in police custody.

The motion received bipartisan support and was passed unanimously, including by Premier Colin Barnett, who gave his full backing for the motion and joined in the minute’s silence.

John’s mother Mavis Pat, together with other family members, witnessed the motion while hundreds of supporters rallied outside at a protest organised by the WA Deaths in Custody Watch Committee. The rally was part of a national day of action in which protests and commemorations were held across the country in Perth, Brisbane, Sydney, Adelaide and Melbourne.

While the gesture was earnestly received, Mavis Pat is also demanding compensation for her son’s brutal death and a reopening of the coronial inquest. “I’d like to see justice be done. It’s been so long but nothing has been done. They’ve never done nothing; some people have come up to talk and see me in Roebourne, they’re trying to help but we never got any letters or nothing. No answers or no letters”, she said.

Speaking to supporters gathered outside the WA parliament, John Pat’s sister Maisie said, “An apology’s not going to bring my brother’s life back [but] I think maybe my mum needs some sort of apology … she hasn’t been paid any compensation or anything. Today there’s still no justice.”

Undoubtedly an apology should be given to the Pat family, and to all families who have had loved ones taken from them, but Colin Barnett’s remorse can only be described as hollow as long as his government continues to perpetrate crimes against Aboriginal people.

Incarceration rates in WA are an absolute disgrace: Aboriginal people are being locked up at nine times the rate that black South Africans were imprisoned under apartheid. One in every 14 Aboriginal adult males is behind bars, while juveniles in WA are a staggering 48 times more likely to be jailed than their non-Indigenous peers.

Home to the country’s most comprehensive mandatory sentencing laws, which further target Aboriginal people and have led to increased incarceration rates, WA’s particular brand of racism is fortified.

While urging both sides of parliament to put differences aside and support the motion, Barnett callously and with complete disdain for the suffering he is currently creating, continues to justify locking up 140 Aboriginal children in an adult maximum-security prison.

These children, some as young at 10, are being denied education and are forced to endure strip searches, lockdowns and solitary confinement for 23 hours a day.

When will the WA government apologise for the crimes they are committing on these young lives?

Expressing solidarity with others who have lost loved ones at the hands of racist police, Maisie Pat said, “I feel for all the other parents who’ve lost their child in police custody. I do feel for them. It’s just the beginning.”

An apology is a first step. But for the Pat family, it is still a long way from justice.

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