Before David Dungay Jr was murdered by prison guards in Sydney’s Long Bay prison, his last words were “I can’t breathe”. Guards had stormed into his cell in December 2015, supposedly because he’d refused to stop eating a biscuit.
Why would anyone hold a prisoner to the ground while he repeats 12 times that he can’t breathe? For the five guards, it was perhaps because they thought that they would get away with it. “If Aboriginal men held down a white man until he was dead, where do you think those men would be? In jail for life”, Dungay’s mother Leetona said outside the coroner’s court last year. “I’m his mother and I want justice. I am going to fight until I live in a country where Black lives matter”.
In Australia, Black lives are regularly stolen by police. Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its findings in 1991, 432 Aboriginal people have died in police custody. No-one has been convicted for any of these deaths.
Giving a rundown of Australia’s most notorious serial killers, a 2019 New Idea magazine article noted that names such as Ivan Milat and John Bunting “are synonymous with evil and evoke feelings of revulsion and horror throughout the world ... Australian serial killers who reigned terror on communities as they went on murder sprees that ranged in length from weeks to years”.
This description could apply to Australia’s police force, which has been carrying out atrocities since its formation.
Why isn’t the name of Zachary Rolfe notorious? He murdered 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in November. Rolfe shot Walker and, with other armed officers, drove him to the police station in Yuendumu in the Northern Territory. They locked themselves inside with him, turned out all the lights and shut off all communications with the crowd gathering outside. In front of the darkened station, Walker’s friends and relatives arrived, knowing that a young man they cared about was inside with the man who had just shot him.
One of Walker’s cousins, Samara Fernandez Brown, told the ABC that she sat outside the police station for four hours. ”We were just sitting there, and all we kept asking the constable was can you come out and let us know if he’s safe, if he’s alive”, she said. She wasn’t told until the next morning that her cousin had been killed.
Joyce Clarke was killed in Western Australia in September 2019 by a police officer who shot her in the stomach after being called because she was acting “erratically”. In the wake of the killing, her mother demanded answers: “She was under mental health, so why [shoot her], why did he do that?”
In December 2017, Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day was arrested on a train for public drunkenness. She was put in a police cell and ignored. She fell, suffering a brain haemorrhage. It was almost five hours until she finally arrived at a hospital.
The murder of TJ Hickey by Redfern police in 2004 was met with riots. He was chased by police before being impaled on a fence after being thrown from his bike. The constable who pursued him refused to give evidence in a subsequent parliamentary inquiry. And he has since been promoted and awarded the National Police Medal and Diligent and Ethical Service Medal.
There is a long list of people who would be alive today if there wasn’t a gang of armed racist killers patrolling the streets, protected by a legal system designed to persecute the oppressed and protect the powerful. There is no such thing as justice in this country while the police force exists.
David Dungay’s nephew told the ABC last week: “We’re outraged about what’s happening in Minneapolis, but really us guys home in Australia need to take a stand together here, the First Nations people and the non-First Nations people, because they’re showing a lot of support through this as well, because they can actually see the racism and injustice against our people.”