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Issue #1745      August 24, 2016

Close the justice gap

Second Anniversary of Death in Custody of Ms Dhu in WA

On August 4, at lunchtime outside the Central Law Courts in Perth, more than 50 protesters gathered to remember Ms Dhu, who died in custody at the police lockup exactly two years ago in South Hedland in the states north west.

The 22 year old Ms Dhu, who was being held in custody to serve time for unpaid fines, became unwell while being detained and though briefly taken (twice) to hospital, she was returned to custody where her health deteriorated further and later died.

A coronial inquest was held by the State Coroner, situated at the Central Law Courts in March of this year but to date the findings of the State Coroner have yet to be released.

In light of the barbaric proceedings which occurred in the Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre in the Northern Territory, where operational video of what occurred was screened on the ABC program Four Corners on July 25, there is growing pressure on authorities by Ms Dhu’s family for the State Coroner to release CCTV footage of police treatment at the South Hedland lockup.

Other rallies in Perth in support of justice for Ms Dhu and the recent Black Lives Matter rally, where the family of Ms Dhu addressed the rally, have called for release of the CCTV footage of Ms Dhu from the lockup.

Speakers at the Anniversary rally included Deaths in Custody Watch spokesman Paul Kaplan – whose organisation called the rally – and Noongar elder Ben Taylor, both speakers who said there should be no more deaths in custody and no more Royal Commissions, as the State had all the information it needed to take action and initiate change to prevent further deaths and reduce rates of Aboriginal incarceration.

Kaplan said that despite the damning findings and numerous recommendations from the 1991 WA Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody recommendations, Aboriginal deaths continued to occur in custody, while rates of incarceration continue to increase, especially amongst young and female Aboriginal people – the latter by 300%.

Federal ALP Senator Sue Lines and Greens Senator Rachel Siewart, who have both been tireless advocates on the issue of Black deaths in custody, addressed the rally with the latter calling for a bi-partisan motion in Parliament with the ALP on the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody made 25 years ago.

One of the final speakers to address the rally was Noongar Elder Ted Wilkes who said that not enough was being done to address the poor health outcomes of Aboriginal people – the Gap on Aboriginal health was not closing but was widening.

The Communist Party of Australia calls for action by federal and state governments on the basis of the recommendations from the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody and for a thorough investigation of matters before the Royal Commission into the abuse of youths in detention at the Don Dale Centre in the Northern Territory. Closely connected to the issue of deaths in custody is the lack of action on closing the gap on Aboriginal health and the CPA also calls for increased efforts to improve health and life expectancy of Indigenous Australians.

Next article – Grandmothers take to the streets

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