Black man dies in police custody.
An all too familiar headline, another name added to an already exorbitant list of victims. #BlackLivesMatter trending on Twitter, a string of protests, bated breath over whether the murderer will be charged; the cycle starts again and communities of colour all around the world are retraumatised by the footage and exhausted by this never ending fight for safety and survival.
Violence against black and brown bodies is a global epidemic that has ravaged communities since long before they started putting cameras in phones.
Like Will Smith said in 2016: “Racism isn’t getting worse, it’s getting filmed.” While the average Australian might instantly associate the quote with the U.S., might thank their God to live in the ‘lucky country’ where this “just doesn’t happen” – my people hold their breath.
With 432 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into the issue, George Floyd could easily have been one of our brothers. Watching everything unfolding in America over the last few days, there are deep, horrifying parallels in the story with the systemic issues between the justice system and the Indigenous population here, which our mainstream media refuses to acknowledge.
The story of George Floyd is reminiscent of Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr.’s final moments. He was a 26-year-old man from Kempsey, NSW, who died in 2015 at the Long Bay prison hospital after being forcibly moved to an observation cell, restrained face down, and sedated.
In 2019, an inquest into his death, which happened just three weeks before he was set to be released, revealed camera footage of him repeatedly yelling “I can’t breathe” as he was being held down by five prison employees.
If you know who George Floyd, Trayvon Martin and Michael Brown are, you need to know the stories of Dungay Jr., Ms Dhu, Aunty Tanya Day, Joyce Clarke and Kumanjayi Walker.
One death is too many. Aboriginal deaths in custody, Australia. Say their names. (some names aren't in full due to cultural reasons). #BlackLivesMatter #AboriginalLivesMatter pic.twitter.com/g2J8iAPdHr
— Sharyn Holmes (she/they) (@sharynaholmes) May 31, 2020
I, like most of the world it seems, am devastated for everyone affected by current events in the US. My heart breaks for our African American brothers and sisters, and for the young ones who fear for their lives on a daily basis.
It also breaks for the families of Indigenous people killed in custody in Australia, who are bombarded with back-to-back media coverage of international injustice, when they’ve never received anything close in terms of outrage and recognition for the loss of their own loved ones back home.
For the 432 deaths of every Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person in custody, not a single conviction has ever been made.
While the silence from supposed allies or lack of acknowledgement of our violent history by mainstream Australian media has been exhausting to say the least, there is something different this time around which gives me hope.
My feed on every social channel is overflowing with outrage. People I’ve never seen speak up about anything political, are distressed and disturbed by George Floyd’s death.
Good. You should be.
What I ask is that you use this time to further educate yourself, hold this energy and maintain it the next time it happens in your own backyard too. Because it will happen, and as we only make up 3% of the Australian population, we need your voices to join us, so we are heard.
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While this moment in history is shocking and dark, it might also be the awakening people needed. This could truly be the turning point which could lead to us finally dismantling the systems which fail us all, as long as our talk turns into action.
Listen to voices of colour, step aside for them to be heard. Call out casual racism and anyone who questions the validity of our struggle every single day. Put pressure on those in power to make change, and be kind. Spread love and hope for a brighter tomorrow. Our children and their children depend on it.
Marlee Silva is a Gamilaroi and Dunghutti storyteller and the Co-Founder of ‘Tiddas 4 Tiddas’. You can catch her on Instagram at @marlee.silva.Image: Getty