When I saw the tragic and unnecessary death of George Floyd I knew it didn’t bode well for the cops in America, but didn’t realise it would mean anything to us. Things had been tense since late March when there had been a police shooting of a white veteran in Cairns. There were threats from the keyboard warriors on social media of revenge attacks on police, but most of the family of the dead man were really understanding, including a close relative whom I dealt with right after the shooting happened.
Right on the heels of this came the shutdown for COVID-19. That increased our workload in some areas, but decreased it in others. Property crime went right down but there were spikes in other problems like suicides. There was a lot going on and I just didn’t pay any attention to Minnesota.
The first inkling I got was when my thirteen-year-old daughter started getting particularly rude and disrespectful, telling me that appearing white, male and in the police defined me as a hateful racist. It was odd because she spent part of her childhood in Coen surrounded by indigenous people and has met hundreds of coppers. She saw indigenous people come to our house to break bread and she played with indigenous kids in our house and their yards. She is a Cape Copper’s kid whose younger daily life disproved the lie that police and indigenous people see each other as mortal enemies. I dismissed this hint, putting it down to normal adolescent insolence, rebellion and the endless feed of simplistic rubbish she gets from social media.
Tension on the street noticeably ratcheted up. I felt it when going to jobs, especially with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander crowds. Being a Cape Copper, I’m not bad at reading indigenous people and felt something was going on.
In the lead-up to the marches, I was on nights and so was not watching the media. Relatives and friends encouraged me to plug, log and tune in. I saw posturing from the usual suspects. All of them were in on the “killer cop” narrative but especially bad were ABC, SBS and NITV.
All the pieces started falling into place. Floyd’s death. My social-media-addicted teenage daughter’s contempt. The tension and increase of disrespect on the street. The flurry of emails about officer safety. Somehow, for some reason, what happened in Minnesota mattered in Far North Queensland. Apparently, deaths in custody were the nexus.
So what has happened since the 1991 Deaths in Custody Royal Commission? Did things get worse? It was possible, because Australia had pushed other indigenous issues like Constitutional Recognition, Sorry Days, National Apologies and Statements From Hearts to the front of the issue queue.
I heard a lot of slogans and saw the number 432 thrown around, but I didn’t see any facts. Checking through media reports, there were no actual breakdowns. Experts in this area, criminologists and statisticians, were noticeably absent from media reporting. I thought that if the “killer cop” narrative espoused by that national treasure Professor Marcia Langton OA was true, they would all be spruiking stats. Most academics, especially criminologists, are lefty types. Many would defund us if they could. If there was any evidence they could provide to validate the narrative of killer cops, they would.
I turned to an obscure research and information source called “Google”. Apparently this source is too obscure for academics and media fact-checkers. It took me a couple of hours to find, read, cut and paste the following statistics. There have been 432 indigenous deaths in custody since 1991. Of the 432 deaths, only 146 were in police custody. The rest were in prison, and therefore in the custody of prison officers, not police.
Of the 146 deaths in police custody, thirty-nine were actually motor vehicle crashes as a result of police pursuits. Queensland has had a “limited pursuit” policy for some years. Police almost never pursue. However, if police try to intercept a vehicle, and it is then driven off and involved in a traffic accident even after pursuit has been terminated, the occupants are technically in police custody and any resulting deaths go down as resulting from a police pursuit. This is even if they are nowhere near a police car and regardless of how much time has expired between the attempted intercept, the evasion and the crash, This fact would distort the figure but I can’t say by how much. Of the other 107 deaths, thirty-one were from natural causes, twenty-eight from suicide, thirty-eight due to accidents and misadventure. That leaves ten deaths since 1991, nearly thirty years, that have actually been what could be categorised as homicide relating to police action.
It’s also important to note that in Queensland, anyone who dies within twenty-four hours of being in a watchhouse is technically counted as being in police custody. So you could be released at night and die the next day from a heart attack or accident or misadventure but you still go down as a death in custody. As with pursuit figures, this will also distort the figures, especially for natural causes, suicide, accidents and misadventure but I can’t say by how much. However, it would not affect the figure (ten) of those dying as a result of police action.
Deaths in police custody are subject to high scrutiny, and so they should be. The job of the police is to protect life, not take it. However, sometimes police do need to take lives to protect others or themselves, and at other times, because much police action is by nature dangerous, people die. In nearly thirty years, even for the most controversial police homicide like the tragic death of Cameron Doomadgee on Palm Island, no police officer has been found guilty, despite hyper-accountability combined with lawyers, judiciary and human rights bodies that are highly suspicious of police, if not actively anti-police. No one disagrees that the ten police homicides were awful, but they were all held to be lawful by people who did not want to come to that conclusion. To give some comparative context, the above numbers are dwarfed by the following figures.
The most recent paper I could find for indigenous homicide rates (“Indigenous and Non-Indigenous Homicide in Australia” by Tracy Cussen and Willow Bryant, published by the Australian Institute of Criminology) was published in 2015, covering July 1989 to June 2012.
While murder rates generally have dropped since the publication of this paper and it isn’t a perfect fit, this is very indicative. In that twenty-three-year period there were 1096 homicide incidents involving at least one indigenous person, with 951 indigenous victims and 1234 indigenous offenders. The total number of victims and offenders is greater than the total number of homicide incidents because some incidents involve more than one offender or the death of more than one victim. (When you look at the paper you’ll notice that about 16 per cent of all homicide offenders are indigenous, which is a disproportionately high percentage compared to their representation in the general population. It is comparable to the proportion of indigenous people in prison.)
Nine hundred and fifty-one deaths in twenty-three years compared to ten in twenty-eight years. Those ten fatal incidents involved police officers protecting themselves or other members of the public, or effecting an arrest, or in some other way executing their duties. I don’t know how many of the officers involved in those ten deaths were themselves indigenous.
As regards imprisonment, in 1991 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians were around 2 to 3 per cent of Queensland’s population and around 14 per cent of its jail population. There has since been an increase nationally in the indigenous imprisonment rate to between 15 and 28 per cent depending on the state. This is despite sentencing that unashamedly discriminates, giving reduced sentences to indigenous offenders because of their race. (See the 2010 Senate discussion paper “Indigenous Australians, Incarceration and the Criminal Justice System”.)
The idea that indigenous people are imprisoned more than others because of systematic racism just isn’t supported by the facts. In fact, the opposite is true. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are given lesser sentences because they are indigenous. There really is systematic racism, but in the form of positive discrimination.
The above murder rates reveal that indigenous people are disproportionately victims of murder, and this is also true of other crimes, especially violent crime. Yes, incarceration is a problem, but offending behaviour and associated victimisation are a much, much bigger problem. Arguably, the justice system does fail indigenous people—not because it locks them up, but because it doesn’t. Indigenous victims are ignored. This neglect of indigenous victims because of positive discrimination towards offenders is a real race-based systematic failure that impacts on indigenous people, especially on the most disadvantaged indigenous people—women and children. It’s worthy of a protest movement in itself.
One more comparative statistic: I don’t know if academia and media fact-checkers would be able to find the 2018 paper “Intentional Self-Harm in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People” on the website of an obscure fact-gathering organisation called “The Australian Bureau of Statistics” but I did, and it is quite illuminating. In 2018 alone 169 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died from suicide. Suicide is the fifth-leading cause of death for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
I wanted to find indigenous murder statistics for 2020. I could not find any official completely trustworthy sources, but going through media reports as I write this, around twelve indigenous people have been victims of murder so far in 2020. I cannot ascertain if there have been findings of guilt by a court or not, but the persons charged for these murders appear to be indigenous.
Can there be any clearer demonstration that white men in blue shirts are not the threat to black lives? The idea that “killer cops” need to “just stop killing people” is not just a lie, it’s a monstrous, vile, contemptible lie. It’s a lie so big even Goebbels and Molotov would have hesitated to tell it, yet people like Langton do not.
Naively, I thought these easily-found facts would matter. I thought the pursuit of truth alone would be enough to warrant academics to search for and recognise the truth, and for the mainstream media to report it. After all, we are supposed to be in the era of “evidence-based policy”. Aren’t the establishment all for turning away from race-baiting, click-bait fake news? Don’t they want to turn away from populist revolts, protests founded on ignorance and sustained by lies? Weren’t we told that hate-speech laws are necessary to uphold social harmony and prevent the justification of violence by lies?
This systematic failure of the truth-makers matters worse. The increase in tension and disrespect on the street will inevitably result in more violence, which I am now starting to suspect is what these people want. I wonder if Langton and distorting journalists mean to give succour to violent protest. Already we are seeing regular policing being framed as inherently racist. Every interaction between coppers and Aborigines and Torres Strait Islanders is measured not against the law or even against standards of acceptable human behaviour, but as indicators of systematic racism.
For my partner and me on night duty, while we had a couple of stand-offs at noisy parties and were called to help roll the stingers out for a stolen car, the nights passed without major incident. But this didn’t make me feel better. The protests were yet to come. My station uses a system for nights where rather than going straight onto days off, you roll from a 10 p.m. to 6 a.m. shift to a 6 p.m. to 2 a.m. shift and then to 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. to get you into some semblance of normality before your days off. The protest day was on our 2 p.m. to 10 p.m. shift so I was too tired to monitor it myself, but was aware from sources that there was a lot going on over social media and that the protests would be big.
They were, too. A few hundred turned up—mostly whites, of course, as we have a university here. Covid assisted too—many people didn’t have to worry about work and had plenty of time on their hands. We listened to the police radio carefully but nothing serious came over, and I breathed a big sigh of relief when it was done. The reports I got from the coppers at the protests were positive. Intel and the negotiators had worked hard before the event and reached out to organisers. Unlike the footage we’ve seen of news reporters in front of things burning and insisting that protests were generally peaceful, our protesters were pretty good. They met up in a local park, went for a walk chanting, and chalked some slogans on the footpath. When some idiots tried to get on top of a power box and started fist pumping, they were pulled down by the crowd.
The police Cross Cultural Unit were handing out face masks to the crowd, which was a great engagement strategy. There were no real counter-protests. There is another event coming up that is being monitored, and from what I can see on the websites myself, while there are some idiots who were clearly frustrated that there was no violence and some that really do want trouble, it should go well.
Protest is important at all sorts of levels. When we are hungry our stomach protests. Protest is a way of recognising issues that need to be corrected in our bodies and the body of our society. But you shouldn’t act on every protest. Those that act on every grumble of their stomach end up with diseases like obesity and diabetes. Some rumbles of hunger do not occur because the stomach is empty, but from having normalised being too full of the wrong food for too long. We can’t ignore the BLM protests any more than we can ignore the protest of an empty stomach. But like eating, protest is only of value if it nourishes.
While it’s true that they are fighting a straw man when it comes to the killer-cops-murdering-indigenous-people narrative, the rumblings do have a point. Besides the positive discrimination that demeans indigenous victims, there are other manifestations of racism in the justice system. There are some laws that are indigenous-specific. The Alcohol Management Plans, as much as they are touted as a geographic measure, are laws targeted against indigenous people. The law-makers knew it when they wrote the laws, the police know it and indigenous people know it too. The effectiveness or otherwise of these prohibition-style indigenous-targeted laws is something that I don’t have the time or inclination to discuss here. There is a lot of pushback against these laws and there have been some ugly, violent incidents where people won’t give up their grog, and lots of high-risk situations where people in vehicles try to evade police at high speed. Regardless of intention or effectiveness, these coercive and contentious laws are creating conscientious objectors. They undermine the legitimacy of the rule of law and damage relations between police and indigenous people.
Another factor is complicated and subjective laws, such as domestic violence laws, that are applied inconsistently. Domestic violence is something that impacts disproportionately on indigenous Australians and is another issue that really needs looking into, but not in the way of the feminist activists who are currently using it as a method of attacking men and masculinity. It’s true that male aggression is expressed more physically and men are therefore more physically violent. Women are just as aggressive, but that aggression is expressed in non-physical ways. They attack mind, character, reputation and psyche. They are often relentless in doing so.
Systematic ignoring of this reality impacts greatly on arrest and incarceration rates. I am not justifying any man who lashes out against a woman for being a harridan any more than I would condone a person assaulting a police officer because the officer was stupid, rude and unprofessional. Both are equally wrong and should be punished. We have ways of addressing police misconduct, and if an officer acts in a provocative manner this is taken into account by the courts. But there is no systematic legal way for men to address female passive-aggression. Indigenous people in remote, isolated areas who still have more archaic values and worldviews find it particularly difficult to maintain the balance-of-power dynamics between the sexes without resorting to physical violence when a woman is being particularly aggressive and abusive. This is especially true in public. Loss of face for men in those small communities is intolerable. When police come to arrest the men for what they see as lashing out against relentless provocation, they often resist, compounding the problem.
So race-targeted and subjectively-applied laws contribute in no small way to the indigenous mindset of victimhood and the perception that the justice system is racist and prejudiced against them. This perception is not a delusion. There really are different rules for indigenous Australians and this really has an impact on their plight. Combined with the systemised racism in the form of well-intentioned but counter-productive positive discrimination, you can see why they are so angry. The protesters are right about Australia failing to adequately address issues affecting indigenous people, but not in the sense that they mean. As long as the establishment continues to indulge people like Langton, justify violence against police, rationalise black-against-black violence, ignore glaring facts like the ones I found above and focus on token issues, things will get a lot worse before they get better.
The media is complicit, especially the ABC, SBS and NITV. It’s true that “hate speech” laws limit truth-telling, but these laws are unnecessary. The mainstream media are spineless and conformist, self-censored by an unquestioning acceptance of left-wing progressive values. The most obvious proof of media complicity, inconsistency and mendacity was the reporting of five indigenous deaths that occurred in late May and early June during the peak of the BLM reporting. The first was the death of an indigenous man in police custody in Mareeba. This chap had been released from the watchhouse and later the police had seen him intoxicated in town and were performing a “street check”, where they take the person’s details and note the location—a handy way to identify witnesses and potential suspects. He was highly intoxicated. While the police were speaking with him, making him technically in their custody, he dropped dead from a massive heart attack. CPR didn’t work. His death was indicative of most indigenous deaths in custody: long-term substance abuse and associated health problems, lots of offending, mostly alcohol-related. Police were unable to save him.
Equally indicative were four deaths in Townsville. Five indigenous youths were hooning around in a stolen car. Police had not tried to intercept it. Speeding along Duckworth Street on the wrong side of the road, it crashed into a set of traffic lights. Four juveniles—three girls and a boy—were thrown from the vehicle and fatally injured. The fourteen-year-old driver survived with only minor injuries.
Google “death in custody Mareeba” and you’ll find that apart from the police release and despite the fact that it was a black death in custody during the height of BLM, the first death wasn’t really reported. You would think that four violent, avoidable deaths of indigenous youths in one incident would make national, if not international news, but that didn’t happen. Just acknowledging and reporting those deaths would completely counter the BLM “killer cop” narrative and highlight what the real issues were. So these indicative tragedies were swept under the carpet, validating my suspicion that media reporting of BLM has nothing to do with a search for the truth, and nothing to do with addressing black deaths in custody.
It appears the entire establishment and many outside have swallowed the false narrative sown by BLM: that to be pro-indigenous is to be anti-police. If you genuinely care about indigenous people and the violence they face, disproportionately from within their own community, you’ll support police. And if you support police, you’ll call out brutality and misconduct when you see it, as I have. In fact, looking at the Ferguson effect and what happened in Aurukun this year when law and order broke down, people should understand that supporting indigenous advancement means supporting police.
I would like to think that my career demonstrates that being pro-police and pro-indigenous, rather than binary opposites are one and the same. But it’s important to be brutally honest. Police do the dirty work, the work that social workers, project officers, community counsellors and priests are too afraid, too unskilled or consider it below their station to do. I’ve had my life threatened and I’ve threatened people with deadly force. I’ve caused injuries and been injured. I’ve taken indigenous children away. I’ve sent a lot of indigenous people to jail. I have also failed, faltered, weakened and tired. Police brutality, while overstated, does exist. I’ve done things in the heat of the moment that I’ve later regretted because I was scared, just wanted the struggle to end, or was motivated by righteous anger or vengeance.
Through all this dirty work, by and large I have contributed to the betterment of individual indigenous people and the collective indigenous community. I took children away from abuse and neglect to give them, if not a shot at life then at least respite from the misery. I jailed the bad and hospitalised the mad to remove destructive individuals out of the community, giving the decent an opportunity to flourish. I’ve made errors, so I can’t say I’m proud of it all. But those who shoulder responsibility err. I know what administering justice means, looks like and involves. Administering justice involves violence. I can tell you that fighting strong men is different from marching in protest, chanting slogans, vandalising statues, blogging, podcasting, being interviewed on the ABC and musing about morality.
Twenty years ago I remember being stunned at the indifference in the wider community towards the violence and misery I witnessed in the Cape. I went to three murders in three weeks in Aurukun, which barely made page three of the local paper. I dealt with the chains of suicide in communities where a progression of people, usually youths in the prime of their potential, would kill themselves. The youngest attempt I went to was a ten-year-old. I knew of a “respected elder” who was left to die in his house with maggots on his sores while his relatives drank themselves stupid. I reported and investigated sexual abuses, the youngest victim nine months old, the offender being a fourteen-year-old relative. I am still stunned by BLM’s indifference to indigenous suffering—a movement that assures us they care about indigenous people.
It’s not that no one cared when these incidents happened. It was worse than that. Everyone knew and accepted. They made excuses. No one seemed to expect anything different from indigenous people. Those who saw themselves as humanitarians explained away free will and individual agency, the things that separate humans from other primates. Denying the free will of indigenous Australians and divesting them of personal responsibility with the intention of explaining away bad behaviour actually denies their humanity. It condemns them to be eternal second-class citizens, as it reinforces the misconception that they have no control over their lives. Those who call for Aboriginal people to take responsibility for their actions respect Aborigines as fully human. They have greater faith in the ability of indigenous people to rise above their current lot, greater hope for the future than the deniers and excuse-makers.
The pathological types, including many in BLM, may even seek to perpetuate and exploit indigenous suffering, as having indigenous people dependent on them gives them power. It’s the same dynamic as addiction. Drug-takers and alcoholics come to revere, fear, worship and even in a perverted sort of way love their suppliers and enablers. And those who point out and try to combat addicted dependence become the bad guys in the mind of the addict. Too many indigenous people are addicted to their own suffering and are hurting themselves. Their sores and self-inflicted wounds become not something to hide and heal, but something to show to the world and trade on.
Like sorcerers who point the bone, the Left has worked its magic on Aborigines. Many indigenous Australians are unable to identify who is friend or foe. Institutionalised racism is repackaged as positive discrimination. Apartheid is re-framed as Aboriginal separatism. The new lie is that police are the natural enemies of indigenous Australia.
There is a real touch of fascism in the BLM movement. Democratic Judeo-Christian capitalism works on the idea of the sovereign individual. Communism talks about “the people”. Fascism claimed to transcend both with the idea of the organic unity of the nation, where there was a sentient collective consciousness. Talk of the “Indigenous First Nation” combined with black consciousness is the foundation of a fascist framework. It erodes the idea of the individual, which is one of the reasons why racial identitarian collective black consciousness purveyors hate individual thinkers like Jacinta Price and Anthony Dillon.
But maybe, just maybe, this zeitgeist will shine a light on things that have haunted me for years, things that I never thought would matter to anyone. Facts may force the liars, charlatans and hypocrites to actually act as if black lives, rather than political narratives, matter. Maybe all those years working in the dark will mean something. That the suffering I saw and the pain I felt, the shifts finished in medical clinics, will all mean something and not be wasted. Maybe if we counter these lies the truth will set indigenous people free and the rumbles of protest could nourish indigenous advancement.
But maybe not. Many in the BLM movement are bigots and no amount of reasoned argument will bring them back into the fold of decency. The movement seems fact-proof, as that national treasure Professor Marcia Langton and media reporting have demonstrated. It’s impossible to tell where this will end. I suspect there will be a lot more violence, as it seems that the protesters will continue until they get what they want, a scared cop lashing out and hurting someone. Many want to validate a narrative, not seek the truth.
There are precedents in the past that give hope, and ironically they come in the responses to protests about deaths in custody. It’s true that many of the ten deaths have caused riots. We all remember Palm Island, Daniel Yock and, even before the inquiry, David Gundy riots. There were riots even for deaths that the police were not responsible for, like the death of T.J. Hickey in Redfern.
Compare and contrast to a 2002 death in custody on Thursday Island. A young Torres Strait Island man was in a stolen car that was chased by police. The car stopped and the offenders fled on foot. A youth ran into long grass and hid. The following police vehicle skidded to a halt, hitting a large gate. The gate swung back and hit the young man in the head as he was hiding in the grass. The blow killed him. The police didn’t know at the time and nor did his co-offenders. His body wasn’t found until the next morning. Many Islanders were understandably angry and wanted answers. But they waited for the results of the coroner’s report. The coroner cleared the police. The Torres Strait Islander people accepted that it was an unfortunate accident. I had been out of Thursday Island for two years, but still got phone calls from my Torres Strait Islander friends when this happened. They were upset and angry but accepted it would have never have happened if the boy had not been in a stolen car, and had submitted to arrest rather than fled. They accepted there was no malice or intent. The community as a whole showed restraint.
So it’s possible for an indigenous community to suffer a tragic death in custody without any coppers getting hurt or anything getting burnt down. It’s important to note a couple of dynamics in Thursday Island. The media didn’t lie. Nor did the legal establishment. People were seeking to find the truth, not validate a narrative of killer cops and indigenous victimhood.
There is an ancient Jewish idea, teshuva: that feelings of despair, remorse and grief can empower us to break the cycle of failure, and even wilful transgressions can be turned into merits. Christians know that sin and fall come before redemption. Maybe, just maybe, we can get through this and maybe, just maybe, good will come. But before anything else, the establishment has to stop lying. White people in blue shirts aren’t the problem. They are an integral part of the solution.
Martin Lynch is a policeman in Queensland. He wrote the article “Why Alice Can’t Get Ahead” in the October 2019 issue.