Tuesday, September 21

‘I didn’t have a friend at work to report to’: life as an indigenous police officer | Books


BWhen she was a police officer, Veronica Gorrie would come home after a bad shift, take out the Pine O Cleen, and make her way from the front door throughout the house. He calculated that the strong scent of the disinfectant helped overcome the smell of death and despair that hung from his uniform like a cloak, but the attention to cleanliness was also a product of the OCD and post-traumatic stress disorder he had developed while working. He once blew up the television by rubbing the back of the screen.

Advance sales of Gorrie’s memoir, Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience, were higher than any other title in the history of his Melbourne-based publisher, Scribe. The book details his time as one of the few Aboriginal members of the police force, and the additional stress experienced by those who are targeted by token recruitment drives and advertised as “good role models”, while being expected to tolerate racist comments and racial profiling at work.

The first book launch Gorrie attended was his. She speaks to Guardian Australia the next day, from a flower-filled hotel room. The first draft of Black and Blue was written when he was discharged in 2011, having spent 10 years working for the Victoria Police and then for the Queensland Police.

Veronica gorrie
Veronica Gorrie: ‘It is really difficult for Aboriginal people to work in white organizations. It’s not culturally safe for us. ‘ Photography: Laura Du Vé

“By joining the police I wanted to break the cycle of fear of the police that had been instilled in me when I was very young, and that my father felt and my grandmother felt like someone who was robbed by welfare and the police when she was eight years old. old man, ”says Gorrie. “I didn’t want my children to feel that fear.”

Gorrie lost many friends and family while signing up. In the past three weeks, he notes, there have been four Aboriginal deaths in custody and no police officer has ever been held responsible.

“We are very concerned that when we leave the house, if we are intercepted by the police, and the probability is very high, we do not know if we will be the next death in custody. That is the sad reality of our lives ”.

The day after our interview, a fifth person dies: a 45-year-old indigenous man held in Casuarina Prison in Perth.

The conflict Gorrie felt in joining the police force – he recalls witnessing excessive use of force and considers himself an accomplice not to speak “earlier and higher” – is reflected in the book in other ways as well. A key struggle is that Gorrie is telling her own story, which includes being a victim of domestic violence, but does not want to perpetuate stereotypes of family violence within Aboriginal communities.

Given that the predominantly white Queensland police have charged 84 of their officers with domestic violence over a five-year period, it would take a determined-eyed reader to see this as an Aboriginal problem. In Black and Blue, Gorrie remembers going “drive-by” with police officers who had separated from their partners and wanted to guard his ex’s home. “It’s stalking,” he says simply.

Veronica Gorrie as a police officer with her father
Veronica Gorrie as a police officer with her father

There were many things Gorrie felt compelled to keep quiet about during her time in the force, including the poverty she still lived in as a single mother. I’d get Cash Converters loans until payday, and food stamps from St. Vincent de Paul and the Salvation Army.

Still, her commitment to the job was such that she had the highest arrest rate for a female police officer in her region. And her diligence even extended to herself: She once used the police computer to check the background of the woman her husband left her for, and then, consumed with guilt, filed a complaint about herself, which resulted in a one year cut. his record and a six-month pay cut. That kind of strict honesty is evident throughout the book, as Gorrie recalls incidents where his empathy failed him.

But Gorrie found few avenues of help. Seeing health and safety representatives and a police psychologist, he says, almost guarantees that other police officers will find out. “Then you are a laughingstock, a weak person.”

“I didn’t have a friend at work to talk to, it was very difficult,” he says. “You know you have coworkers and you go out for a drink and you have barbies and stuff? He had no one. It is very difficult for Aboriginal people to work in white organizations. It is not culturally safe for us. “

Gorrie recalls waking up her eldest daughter, Nayuka, in the wee hours of the morning during her time with the police. “I was a single parent, so I had no one to talk to. She used to go to Nayuka’s room and cry, telling them about the deaths, the suicides, the shitty jobs. I regret that, because I exposed my children to many things ”.

Veronica Gorrie's Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience book cover

Now a writer, performer and activist, Nayuka Gorrie wrote in The Guardian in 2018: “The state and its mechanisms, like the police, serve as a means of solving any problems in the system. When you are black, you are one of those wicked. “

His book launch in Melbourne was attended by all three of Gorrie’s children. Gorrie had planned what she was going to read and who she would thank, but when the time came, she burst into tears. Only one of his children, Nayuka, had felt ready to read the book, but then the three of them stepped up to the microphone and took turns reading aloud.

“I couldn’t speak,” says Gorrie. Everybody was crying. That’s just the spirit. That is the family network and that is who we are. We are there for each other. “

Veronica Gorrie’s Black and Blue: A Memoir of Racism and Resilience is now available via Scribe


www.theguardian.com

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