Invasion Day 2007 — sounds of silence

“The one place where a man ought to get a square deal is in a courtroom, be he any color of the rainbow, but people have a way of carrying their resentments right into a jury box.  As you grow older, you’ll see white men cheat black men every day of your life, but let me tell you something and don’t you forget it – whenever a white man does that to a black man, no matter who he is, how rich he is, or how fine a family he comes from, that white man is trash.”  ~Harper Lee, To Kill a Mockingbird, Chapter 23, spoken by the character Atticus

A number of speakers at the rally called for unity up and down the East Coast of Australia to seek Aboriginal control of aboriginal affairs. Much talk focussed on the unrepresentative nature of indigenous politics in years past and the need for true representation of Murri needs and interests.

andrew-boe-speaking-at-parliament-house-on-invasion-day-rally-2007.jpg

There was a call for silence prior to the trial of Snr Sgt Chris Hurley by lawyer Andrew Boe at the Invasion Day rally in Brisbane. He asked for there to be no comment about the guilt of Snr Sgt Hurley, and for Hurley to be given the presumption of innocence —a right Hurley never extended to his victim, Mulrunji.

In his speech, Andrew Boe (pictured speaking) also endorsed the laying of a manslaughter charge by the Attorney General instead of a murder charge.

You would think that under the criminal justice system the jury would be left to decide if Snr Sgt Hurley murdered Mulrunji? Andrew Boe is a reformer, he accepts the system, wears its clothes, like Atticus in “To Kill a Mockingbird” wishes only to dress it up in different clothes without changing the substance beneath.

This trial has come about because of those active on Palm and the political organisation of the mob from Jagara under the leadership of Sam Watson. They have refused to be silenced by threats of the police union, jail terms, and government support of the conservative DPP. The government’s support of the DPP remains despite her failure to make a decision based on the facts of Mulrunji’s killing. She had chosen either not to read or to ignore the facts revealed in the Coroner’s report.

Lex Wotton (pictured at right) —the Palm Island man charged with riot, willful damage etc— is likely to be tried before Sgt Hurley such is the nature of the criminal justice system in Queensland.

What chance has Lex Wotton got of avoiding a lengthy jail term after the Qld Attorney General appealed to the Supreme Court in December 2006 for larger sentences against other Palm Islanders similarly charged? A single mother was given six months in prison on charges of throwing a rock.

Speaking at the rally, Lex Wotton humbly put his faith in the people who had supported him like those who attended rallies on Palm and in Brisbane on Invasion Day.

This is a tricky situation for Murri activists and their supporters because the justice system is designed to exclude relevant facts from the jury. The Criminal Justice system is staged managed by conservative judges, prosecutors and lawyers. The judicial system is biased against political activists and Aborigines as evidenced by the increased sentences meted out to those on Palm who expressed grief and outrage over the whitewash of Mulrunji’s killing by Snr Sgt Hurley.

The jury system in Queensland has bad chapters like the Joh jury. In that case a National Party plant led to Joh’s accquittal after he held out against the rest of the jury, ten of whom asked for Joh to be convicted. (See the ABC’s docu-drama ‘JOH’S JURY’). Also it is not uncommon to see confused and uncritical jurors being persuaded and brow beaten by manipulative judges and lawyers. No justice will derive from such a system.

As Sam Watson said at the rally, no matter what happens, nothing will bring back Mulrunji and the others who have died in custody.

There’s a cold rain on the Autumn windkiller-cops.jpg
A brother murdered in Sydney Town
Marrickville brother under supposed legal cover
In his home they gunned him down
We say oh oh ooooh
Gunned him down

Sad river of tears

Two hundred years in the river of fear
Gunned him down.

Kev Carmody in “River of Tears” on Eulogy for a black person

Stop Black Deaths in custody!

Ian Curr
January, 2007

6 responses to “Invasion Day 2007 — sounds of silence

  1. cheryl kaulfuss

    Recommendations made as a result of the RCIADIC are meaningless at this point in time – Aboriginal Deaths in Custody continue, one police officer (Hurley) has faced court largely due to public pressure but of course he still ended up “walking” and has since had a large insurance settlement.

    I understand the recommendations of the RCIADIC included appointing Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officers – those personnel can only be seen as window-dressing while they are not given a REAL voice. Lloyd Bengaroo’s evidence during investigations into Mulrunji’s death had many people raising their eyebrows while in Redfern, NSW, at the Coronial Inquest into TJ Hickey’s death following his impalement on a metal picket fence after a police pursuit the legal team acting for the Hickey family refused Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer Paul Wilkinson the opportunity to appear at that inquest. It is a well-known fact that had he, as a Police Aboriginal Community Liaison Officer, been allowed to impart information he was privy to at that inquest into TJ’s death the Hickey family and the public would have undoubtedly seen a very different outcome than the one they got. Why is it necessary to suppress the truth? Why are those wishing to speak out (and their families, friends & communities)harassed and intimidated in an attempt to prevent them from doing so? There needs to be some REAL investigation carried out into why this is happening.

    It is a well-known fact that following the Palm Island community’s unhappiness at Mulrunji’s death guns were held at children’s heads and the same sort of behaviour occurred in Redfern, NSW, following TJ Hickey’s death.

    The comment is often asked, and rightly so, just who are the terrorists?

    On the one hand we have this sort of behaviour and on the other hand we see Aboriginal people enticed into doing plea bargains in return for slightly lesser jail sentences – even if these people are not guilty of the crime they cannot refuse such a supposedly “generous” alternative to facing their day in court which may well result in a much lengthier sentence. As an Aboriginal person knows when they appear before a jury of non-Aboriginal people,as is usually the case, the jury members’ minds are often made up, or at least biased, from the minute they see that Aboriginal person walk into the court. How many Aboriginal people are currently incarcerated after being “co-erced” into doing these plea bargains? How can Aboriginal people really get justice in their own country?
    The jailing of Aboriginal people can be seen as a huge industry – it keeps a lot of people in jobs (the courts, judges, magistrates, police, correctional facilities staff and on and on it goes). Taxpayers’ money could be spent in a more productive and meaningful manner if only Governments had the will to try a different approach. They know that and we, the public, know that but when are things going to change?

    In February 2008 Prime Minister Rudd made an apology to the members of the Stolen Generation and while applauding him for this it is time for the Federal Govt. to now step in and take the responsiblity of implementing the Recommendations of the RCIADIC State/Territory Governments back – the Royal Commission was a Federal Govt. initiative after all – and then to reinvestigate the hundreds of Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and to get to the real truth over what really happened to cause the loss of life in each and every situation (family permitting of course).

    2008 must be more than the year an Apology was made – 2008 must be the year where there is REAL justice and truth.

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  2. There has been a lot of talk about the Royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and how its reccomendations have been largely ignored. The police unions present push to implement some reccomendations such as video cameras in watchhouses is in line with the other reccomendations that actually were adhered to – those that provide proffessional protection to police and prison officers. As soon as the RCIADIC had finished, prison and watch house cells around the nation were redesigned to minimise a prisoners capacity to take their own life and of course, the officer’s and state’s liability in such a death. The only other thing other than tinkering with cell design has been the implementation of Aboriginal sentencing courts such as the Murri and Koori courts that can only be accessed by way of a guilty plea. Murri court simply fast tracks people into the criminal system and provides a clear inducement to plead guilty – that is to concur with the police officers version of events surrounding the persons arrest.

    There has been no advances, and few RCIADIC reccomendations about how to deal with racist and sadistic attitudes, or at least negligent attitudes, on the part of the police on the street, which is the biggest single cause of the massive over representation of Aboriginal people in prisons, especially youth prisons.

    It is the hostile reality of street level contact between the police and Aboriginal people that is the essential problem that the RCIADIC failed to address (though it did allude to it) and has not even been recognised as a problem by state authorities since then. Beatties consistent attitude to Aboriginal policy, which has been limited to the single issue of alcoholism for the past 4 years, has been to increase police powers and numbers in Aboriginal communities.
    see http://www.news.com.au/couriermail/story/0,23739,21193589-5003406,00.html

    Until the police begin to withdraw from Aboriginal communities and law and order issue are managed by Aboriginal authorities then there will continue to be massive incarceration and death in custody rates.

    Aboriginal law and order strategies will need resources such as vehicles, diversionary centres, healing programs and of course wages for trained and respected law men and women.

    This, I believe is the only way to effectively deal with the systematic criminalisation, assault and killing of Aboriginal people.

    Tinkering around the edges of police training and watch house protocol justifies the demands on government and police to be seen to be doing something about the situation but only exists as a diversion of energy, resources and most importantly creativity from real solutions to deeply engrained problems in the nature of the Queen’s law and her officers.

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  3. Perhaps your caution is justified, David.

    It is a hard call to know which way to go.

    I am not the best person to judge this issue dispassionately. I was thrown in Stuart Creek prison by a Townsville magistrate for contempt of court in 1980. I had merely pointed out the obvious while the court was adjourned, that the police prosecutor had the magistrate in his pocket.

    Stuart Creek, Townsville, was full of Palm Islanders, victims of rough justice at the hands of racist police, judges and juries.

    During my stay in Stuart Creek I was abused by the Chief Prison Warden. He paraded me in front of inmates on hunger strike calling out to me as Mr Civil Liberties cajoling me to break the hunger strike (I didn’t break it). I was thrown down on cement by an inmate, had a warder point an Armalite rifle in my face and was put in solitary with a tin can to shit in while endless commercial radio was piped into my cell, day and night.

    I appealed against the contempt charge, won the appeal against the penal sanction but not before i had seen briefly (nearly two weeks in prison) what black brothers and sisters had to put up with on daily basis.

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  4. Thanks for your reply.

    By ‘outsider’ I meant I am not Aboriginal, so I need to know my place in this campaign – as an ally, not a decision maker.

    I understand that, because of different rules of evidence in coronial enquiries, the coroner’s finding is not, in itself, relevant in the upcoming trial. (I speak legally, not morally here). The evidence will have to be re-presented in Court, according to criminal laws of evidence.

    I agree that the long-term aim must be to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody.

    There is certainly a good argument that the court system may well turn out to be be unsatisfactory in this case.

    However, since the Aboriginal people who are leading this campaign have decided to go down that road, I think it’s important to not hurt the chances for the trial to go ahead.

    I’m glad that the decision to charge Hurley has sent a clear and painful message to violent police.

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  5. David,

    Firstly thanks for the photo shown in the article above. It came from your blog “Let’s Take over“. I am not sure of your status as ‘an outsider’ given the postings on your blog. Nevertheless I take your comments in the spirit of support for the Mulrunji campaign.

    I listened closely to what Andrew Boe said at the rally and read your reporting of his statement.

    Remember that the coroner, Christine Clement, found in October 2006 that Snr Sgt Hurley was responsible for Mulrunji’s death.

    The coroner said that she disbelieved the claim by Hurley that it was an accident. Remember that the coroner suggested that Hurley and his mates from Townsville CIB were engaged in a cover-up. They did not report the allegations that Mulrunji had been assaulted by Hurley to medical staff. The coroner’s inquiry was no kangaroo court. Two years and millions of dollars was spent obtaining the evidence upon which this decision was based. This only happened because Palm Islanders voiced their dismay at the injustice of the first inquest finding that Mulrunji’s death was an accident. All this is on the public record.

    So too is the portrayal by the police union of Hurley being a good bloke being unfairly hounded by aboriginal rioters and protestors.


    Back to the Mulrunji campaign.

    You are right, its aim is to have Hurley brought to trial.

    That aim is meaningless unless it prevents future Black Deaths in Custody.

    It is a warning to police who beat up aborigines.

    Why else would the police union demand police be removed from Palm?

    For Hurley not to be brought to trial is a licence for police to kill Aborigines and not be punished.

    This is the first time a Queensland policeman has been charged with killing an aborigine; despite many deaths that have been recorded and many others that have gone unrecorded since colonisation.

    Another aspect of the Mulrunji struggle is highlighted in a press release issued by Sam Watson on 29 January 2007:

    Justice for Mulrunji also means justice for those who protested against his death in custody.
    We will fight for the quashing of the charges and convictions against the Palm Islanders who rose up at his death and for the resignation of the incompetent and partisan Leanne Clare.”

    Lex Wotton goes before the courts again in March 2007.

    Other Palm Islanders are still in jail as a result of an appeal by the Attorney General to have their penal sanctions increased.

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  6. The whole aim of the Justice for Mulrunji campaign has been to get Hurley charged. This appears to be the united aim of the Aboriginal community, as far as I can tell as an outsider, so, as someone who offers himself as an ally, I will back that aim.

    If, after the trial, it turns out to have been a bad one, then we should speak up and never stop. But right now, I am going to say nothing that might let Hurley’s lawyer claim prejudice.

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