by Gerry Georgatos
April 24th, 2015
Image – Desiré Mallet
One in 13 of Western Australia’s Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander adult males are in prison today. From a racialised lens this is the world’s highest jailing rate. But before you get jailed you must be arrested. Western Australia has less than 30,000 Aboriginal adult males, less than 80,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders period, less than 3 per cent of the Western Australian population is comprised of Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders. But more than half the arrests by police of Western Australians are comprised of First Peoples, nearly half the prison population is comprised of First Peoples, more than three quarters of juvenile detention is comprised of Aboriginal youth.
The more west we journey across this continent the worse it gets for First People – the higher the jailing rates, the worse the homelessness and the extreme poverty, the higher the suicide rates. It is racism – you cannot go past the fact of racialised imprisonment, of Government neglect of people and communities from a racialised basis, of policies and laws scripted to fend off but which lead to even more racial tensions. In the one year, Western Australian police issued more than 10,000 move-on notices to people with Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander heritage – I remind that there are less than 80,000 Aboriginal and/or Torres Islanders in the Western Australian population.
Western Australia is the wealthiest jurisdiction in Australia, which is itself the world’s 12thlargest economy. Western Australia has the world’s highest median wages but is riddled with the Government sponsored degradation of hundreds of communities of First Peoples.
So what do we have here? Is it overt racism that an individual should be able to conscientiously reject or the pass the buck argument of institutional racism where it is institutionally engrained and therefore ‘orders are orders’? To me it is one and the same, you can always stand up to racism. I often argue that racism has many veils and layers but despite these veils and layers our opposition to racism is a simple act.
You know, nothing really changes unless it is spoken about and stated as it is otherwise we drift in the nightmarish hogwash of the proposition of incremental change. Incremental change translates to untold human suffering, lost generations, underclasses of people who effectively did not matter enough to the ‘chattering classes’.
The Government of Western Australia cannot sidestep its tag of the most racist State in Australia, of the backwater of Australia’s racism. Too many statistical narratives are testament – the move on notices, the arrest rates, the jail numbers, the types of so-called crimes people are picked up for, the bashings of detainees by police and prison officers that have been caught on CCTV footage. The statistical narrative – a racialised narrative – continues with homelessness, extreme poverty, degradation of communities, public housing evictions, premature death rates, low life expectancy, unnatural death rates and the horrific suicide rates.
The police can bleat all they care to in that they are only following orders – ‘doing their job’. They do not have to act as the muscle for Local and State Governments in targeting First Peoples on matters that are not crime related. But they do. They are told ‘jump’ and they appear to, as if their response is ‘how high’?
There is the right to conscientious objection.
There is the right to say, ‘this is not what I joined the police force for’.
Hey you coppers, is there not one among you who can say, ‘but these are just homeless people in a safe space or these people are just peacefully protesting’ or ‘we’re not your lackeys’.
I know police have a tough gig in dealing with incidences and confrontations that the average citizen has little clue about. But this does not excuse indisputable racialised targeting and the disregard of compassion and of civil liberties.
But hey, what do you do when your own police commander – the chief of all the State’s coppers – is so far removed from the coalface that nowadays he just sounds like a politician in the back pocket of some robber baron billionaire miner?
Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan sounds like no more than the Government’s mouthpiece siding with each byte of propaganda dished out by the most racist Government on this continent. It was only a month ago that the Commissioner reckoned that sexual abuse was rife in the Homelands – ‘the remote communities’ – backing Premier Colin Barnett’s unsubstantiated claims – and to the extent that the Commissioner reckoned he could point it all out. O’Callaghan drew on some ten year old report, outdated, where less than 10 per cent of police contact with the complainants could be attributed to sexual abuse. But hey let us knock up hysteria, build up stereotypes, manufacture consent.
The Commissioner scored the State’s top job as a police officer on the back of the sell that he was a ‘reforming’ copper – PhD and all. He started his gig with a few good calls on long overdue police and prison reform, on pinpointing social health and inequalities as causal to poverty related crimes but in recent years he has radically changed his tune. It appears once his top job gig was on the line he shifted to the mantras of blame, shame, and the crap of self-responsibility. Everything that Australia’s most racist Government loves to hear.
Hey, here in Western Australia we jail people for being poor.
One quarter of the State’s prison population is made up of fine defaulters – it is a crime to be poor in Western Australia.
The police hand in the hits on the Matargarup camp – a safe space for the homeless – are their personal shame. They acted as militia for the Perth City Council officers to steal the tents and belongings from the poorest and most vulnerable of people. The same people who are tormented by police with move-on notices, who shuffle from condemned squat, congested alleyways and bush squats. Every time the police escort the council’s thieves to Matargarup, the police are no longer police – they are thugs, muscle and nothing more. In all likelihood they will be doing it all again very soon, smashing the homeless safe space at Matargarup into oblivion.
Racial tensions are building up once again to all-time highs in this backwater State – worse than even 1983, when tragically 16 year old John Pat, was bashed to death by a drunk copper – five coppers were charged, five coppers were acquitted. John Pat had rushed to the aide of a mate, to pull out Ashley James from a disgusting melee with five inebriated coppers. Thirty-two years later there is more racism in Western Australia than less. Go figure? For twenty years Western Australian Governments have been neglecting and degrading Homelands. Now they want to close them – up to 150 communities, and if they could get away with it they would close all the 282 communities – if it made their mining chums happy. This is racism. Let us call it for what it is. Assimilation is being sold as the one size fits all way forward for First Peoples, but this is not the Western Australian Government’s agenda. There is nothing well-meaning in any bent for assimilation by the Western Australian Government. In Western Australia, assimilation is a tool for exploitation.
The political climate in Western Australia is exploitation. The political climate then therefore justifies institutionalised racism. The political climate then therefore justifies thuggery.
Yesterday, a protest action in the heart of Perth, that would march on to State Parliament was corralled by coppers – on motorcycle, horseback and with militia-like presence. It was very aggressive, moreso than usual. Obviously there had been directives. Earlier in the morning, before the protest action, I was told by one of my Government insiders that there would be a crackdown on the protesters, and soon on Matargarup. The Government fears a cultural shift, fears the increasing empathy of Western Australians to the homeless, to Matargarup camp, and fears a backlash to the Government’s agenda to close down communities.
With the Commissioner doing his bit a few weeks ago to cover the back of Premier Barnett after his unsubstantiated and cruel claims of ‘rife’ sexual abuse in the Homelands, he was obviously okay with sending the police in to the protest action as some sort of cavalry.
Relative to recent times it was unseen stuff. There was not an individual at the protest action who was not shocked by the aggressive behaviour of these so-called coppers. Some onlookers were surprised. Children could have been injured as they got caught up in slivers between horseback and motorcycle coppers. Coppers were in stand offs with the marchers. Pushing move-on notices to them – one marcher told the coppers to ‘move-on’. The coppers grabbed at him, and in the gentleman’s defence he tried to swivel out of their cruel grasp, with one officer falling over. It was then ludicrously reported that the copper was pushed. The poor bastard who was arrested was charged with ‘assault’. A cowardly charge by the coppers and who well know the poor bastard is facing a mandatory jail sentence if this allegation is upheld in Court. There was no intent yesterday by the coppers to allow for a peaceful protest or for any de-escalation. They were on a mission. They had directions.
Another individual at the protest – one of the organisers – was targeted by the coppers outside State Parliament. They handed her a summons to appear in Court in June on an alleged driving related infringement at a previous protest action. This is definitely targeting.
She said to me, “I do not drive. I and my children catch the buses and trains to rallies and marches.”
I know this to be true.
Yesterday was a low point for the police force in this State – but so too when they move-on the homeless, so too when they raid Matargarup.
The man arrested yesterday, the woman summonsed yesterday and another individual to whom a move-on notice was dished out to, they are First Peoples. Yesterday was rivers of White coppers and a sea of Black victims.
I am tired of police as a protected lot – I have stood up again and again for the majority of good coppers and their tough gig, but coppers should want of themselves what they want from the rest of us. They call on the general community to speak up when there is rogue behaviour. Well this should be a two-way street. Coppers need to pull their own into line when they’re teetering on rogue behaviour, and speak up and lodge complaints when one of their own steps out of line. Where are the coppers who have seen their mates bash detainees? Coppers who call to account coppers are known as ‘dogs’ – this is part of the police lingo. There is a deep culture of silence among the police. Silence is complicity and this has to change because even if you are a good copper you have failed your calling when you go silent. As you want from us so you should expect from each other.
Nothing will change if we do not speak up. Nothing will change if we do not state it as it is. Nothing will beat down the wrongs if those Whites who have had enough of what is being done in their name do not step up and stand alongside those who this Government and its institutions seek to marginalise, to smash into misery.
Western Australia’s bent to close Homelands – to evict people off their lands – is becoming the sick joke of the world and Perth is fast becoming to Western Australia what once Birmingham was to Alabama.
Link to Channel Ten News on police clashing with protesters Forced closure rally