Victoria Police has officially withdrawn charges against two Indigenous activists who helped organise the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests in Melbourne.
Amangu Yamaji woman Dr Crystal McKinnon and Gunai and Gunditjmara woman Meriki Onus have been fighting to have the charges dropped since June of 2022.
They were originally charged with breaching the Chief Health Officer’s lockdown orders by organising the march against Aboriginal deaths in custody through Melbourne’s CBD in June 2020 and were fined $1652 each.
The second of two attempts to have the case thrown out occurred in November when the prosecution attempted to alter their wording. The wording change was ruled against by the magistrate.
“The matter has been carefully considered by the prosecution and as a result of the ruling of the court the prosecution seeks to withdraw the charges,” prosecutor Matt Fisher said per Guardian Australia.
The magistrate presiding over the case, Andrew McKenna ordered Victoria Police to cover the cost of both women’s legal defence. A massive result considering they were up against the full force of Vic Pol.
“We would like to emphasise that the fight is not over,” Onus said outside the courtroom after the ruling had been made.
“One death in custody, one death by the state is one too many.”
“We would like to extend our solidarity and support to all people and groups organising and fighting for justice to end racism and the ongoing violence.”
The whole process has been an absolute marathon and absolutely infuriating for Onus and McKinnon who were constantly being mucked around by authorities.
Victoria Police previously told both activists that all charges would be dropped in July, two full years after the 2020 protests. But they confirmed days later they actually would not be dropping charges.
Are you confused? I’m confused. To be honest, it sounds like Victoria Police were also confused.
The organisers’ lawyer Ali Besiroglu said police had confirmed on July 5 all charges would be dropped.
“We are unable to comment while the matters are currently before the court other than to confirm that Victoria Police has advised us that the charges against Dr McKinnon and Ms Onus will be withdrawn,” he said at the time per The Age.
“We vow to continue standing alongside First Nations peoples in our collective pursuit for justice and wish the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities a happy NAIDOC Week.”
But Victoria Police also said on July 6 this wasn’t happening and blamed a “miscommunication”.
“A miscommunication by Victoria Police wrongly identified the matter would be withdrawn,” a spokesperson told The Age.
“We can confirm the charges have not been withdrawn and the matter will proceed at Melbourne Magistrates’ Court.
“A 41-year-old woman from Geelong North and a 34-year-old woman from Reservoir were charged with breaching chief health officer directions.”
The fk???? https://t.co/sJkJZtOiHx
— Chelsea Watego (@drcwatego) July 6, 2022
“The Victorian Government presents itself as a progressive government committed to addressing past and ongoing violence against First Nations peoples through various initiatives, while at the same time trying to silence the voices who have had enough of our people dying in custody and who demand change,” they said.
“At the time of the Black Lives Matter rally a significant number of our people had died in custody since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. That number has only increased. The message is not getting through.”
Fellow organiser Tarneen Onus-Williams was also fined but it was withdrawn.
The organisers were the subject of vitriol in 2020 from government officials, police and the public who accused them of helping spread COVID-19, which we now know wasn’t the case.
NSW Police Commissioner Mick Fuller at the time spread blatant lies in the media that the Black Lives Matter rally had caused the first wave of COVID and put Melbourne back “five or 10 years economically”.
Newscorp news outlets also published false information about the protest sparking a COVID cluster.
But not a single case was linked to the event and anyone who attended will know how seriously the organisers took health and safety. Every attendee wore a face mask and the crowd was split into smaller groups for the actual march, in accordance with gathering limits at the time.