Thursday, December 9

‘When will we have peace?’ Pain and outrage over the death of three indigenous people in custody in a week | Deaths in custody

“When will we have peace?”

That was the harrowing question from the Green senator and Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung’s wife, Lidia Thorpe, on Friday after news that three Aborigines had died in custody within a week.

In New South Wales, a man in his 30s and a woman in his 50s died in custody. Their deaths were only revealed under questioning during a state parliamentary hearing five days ago.

News of the third death, of an Aboriginal man at the Victoria Correctional Facility in Ravenhall last Sunday, came as the findings of a coronary investigation into the prison death of another Aboriginal man were broadcast in Sydney.

A 36-year-old man from Anaiwan Dunhutti, Nathan Reynolds, died in 2018 without air on a prison floor due to an asthma attack after guards took an “unreasonably” long time to help him.

New South Wales Deputy Coroner Elizabeth Ryan said the “confused, uncoordinated and unreasonably delayed” response from prison guards and health personnel deprived Reynolds of “at least some chance” of survival.

The Reynolds family, who have waited nearly three years for answers on how and why he died and, more importantly, for someone to be held accountable, heard the New South Wales deputy coroner give a brief summary of his findings. Thursday.

“These failures were due to both numerous system deficiencies and individual errors in judgment,” Ryan said. The guards took more than 11 minutes to arrive, 13 minutes to call a nurse, 22 minutes before he arrived at his side and 47 minutes before ambulance paramedics attended to him, he said.

But Ryan said his recommendations “did not focus on attributing blame.” They were made “in the hope” that people like Reynolds, who are admitted into custody with severe asthma, have a better chance of avoiding a life-threatening attack and surviving one if it occurs.

Makayla Reynolds, left, and her sister Taleah read a statement to the media as the family watched after the investigation into the death in custody of Nathan Reynolds.
Makayla Reynolds, left, and her sister Taleah read a statement to the media as the family watched after the investigation into the death in custody of Nathan Reynolds. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts / AAP

Standing outside the courtroom minutes later, advocates for justice, families and their supporters heard the sad news of the third death. Still trying to come to terms with the coroner’s findings in the case of her beloved brother’s death, Reynolds’s sisters, Makayla and Taleah, expressed their solidarity with those newly grieving families.

“People should not die in prisons away from their loved ones,” said Makayla Reynolds. “Last week, two other people died in prisons in New South Wales. This morning we were informed of another death in Victoria. Our thoughts and support go out to their families.

“No family should have to go through this. How many more Aboriginal people must die prematurely due to failures in justice, health, and remedial services? We say nobody. Not a single other person has to die prematurely. “

The Northern Territory Coroner learned of the death of 47-year-old Kumanjayi Bloomfield, who was killed in a car accident on the Plenty Highway near the Harts Range while trying to evade police in July 2019. The police report on his death was slow. 10 months to be delivered. – well beyond the internal timeframes of the force. Bloomfield family he told ABC they had “significantly lost confidence in the police” since his death.

Three more investigations into death in custody are about to begin.

Early next month, the Queensland coroner will hear how Townsville police used a controversial neck restraint prohibited in jurisdictions around the world during the arrest of an Aboriginal who died in 2018.

The 39-year-old man was arrested after his wife called the police because she was concerned for his mental well-being. Apparently, a police technique known as lateral vascular immobilization of the neck was used when attempting to immobilize it.

In Western Australia, a coronary investigation will begin next month into the deaths of two young Aboriginal men who drowned in the Swan River in Perth in 2018 while fleeing the police.

The police were chasing the children on foot after receiving reports of “teenagers jumping fences”. Four teenagers entered the river to escape, but only two made it out.

This will be followed by the investigation into the death of 26-year-old Cherdeena Wynne, who died in hospital five days after she failed to respond after being handcuffed by police on an Albany street. She died 20 years after her father, Warren Cooper, died in custody after she was found unconscious at the Albany police guardhouse. He was also 26 years old.

‘The system is killing our people’

Late on Thursday, the nation’s combined Aboriginal legal services demanded that the prime minister urgently meet with grieving families advocating for systemic change.

Representatives from the Torres Strait Islander and Aboriginal National Legal Services across the country said they were “appalled and deeply upset” by the ongoing death toll.

“Our people have marched, we have raised our voices, we have participated in investigation after investigation, we have shared our stories and developed solutions,” they said in a statement. “However, governments are waiting while Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders die under their watch, in their prisons, police cells and during police pursuits.”

Natsils said he supported the 15 families whose loved ones had died in custody who were behind a petition “urging Prime Minister Scott Morrison to meet with them face-to-face for the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.”

Thorpe said Morrison refused to meet with grieving families to explain how the deaths were possible. “This government cares so little about anyone except themselves,” he said.

The prime minister’s office has been contacted for comment.

In April it will be 30 years since the royal commission issued 339 recommendations. The extent to which they have been applied is controversial.

A 2018 government-mandated review by Deloitte Access Economics found that 64% of the recommendations had been fully implemented in all relevant jurisdictions, 14% had been mostly implemented, 16% had been partially implemented, and the 6% had not been implemented at all.

But that report was roundly fired by a group of prominent indigenous and social academics as “deceptively positive” and “largely worthless.”

Thirty-three academics wrote that the review allowed governments to “hide behind the appearance of having simply introduced policies and programs that they claim have addressed recommendations, rather than accepting their real-world impacts.”

Parallel to the news of more deaths in custody, the Yoo-rrook justice commission was announced in Victoria last week. It is the first commission of its kind in Australia to examine current and historical injustices against Aboriginal nations. Named by the word Wemba Wemba / Wamba Wamba for “truth”, you will be given the powers of a royal commission, which means that you will be able to obtain evidence under oath.

Aunt Geraldine Atkinson addressed the media during a press conference announcing the launch of an indigenous reconciliation investigation, in Melbourne on Tuesday.
Aunt Geraldine Atkinson announces the launch of an indigenous reconciliation investigation in Melbourne on Tuesday. Photograph: James Ross / AAP

The First Assembly of the Peoples of Victoria, responsible for the treaty process, welcomed the commitment to tell the truth. But assembly co-chair Geraldine Atkinson, a woman from Bangerang and Wiradjuri, also said she was devastated by the news that three Aboriginal people had died in custody within a week:

The solutions to keep our people safe have been known for 30 years, from the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. For 30 years, governments have failed to follow through on these recommendations, inaction that has cost the lives of more than 450 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.

In Victoria, Aboriginal people are incarcerated at rates 12 times higher than the rest of the population. We die ten years younger. This system is killing our people and it has to stop. I stand with our community in pain and solidarity, and I will continue to fight for safety and justice for our people.

This tragic story is one of many that will be heard at the Yoo-rrook Justice Commission. The truth will be painful and conflicting, but it needs to be heard.

In New South Wales, the Aboriginal Legal Service said it was “time for real accountability” in the court system.

The two deaths in prison in New South Wales came to light when New South Wales Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin was questioned in a parliamentary hearing by Greens MP David Shoebridge.

Severin said it was “not appropriate” to notify the public of the deaths without any details, but the Aboriginal Legal Service of New South Wales disagreed.

“The NSW government has an obligation to let people know about things that are in the public interest, and this includes when there has been a death in their care,” said NSW ALS Executive Director Karly Warner.

In the middle of last year, as the Black Lives Matter movement was sweeping the streets of Australian towns and cities, a large coalition of justice groups outlined five reforms that they said “could be done tomorrow, if there is the political will.”

The groups, representing more than 100 legal services, including Change the Record, National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services, Human Rights Law Center, Amnesty International, ANTaR, First People’s Disability Network, Community Legal Centers, Family Violence Prevention Legal Services , the Australian Council of Social Service, Oxfam and the Law Society of Australia issued a five-point plan.

This sought to repeal punitive bail laws and mandatory sentencing laws, raise the age of legal responsibility from 10 to 14 years, legislate for independent death-in-custody investigations and independent police oversight bodies, and implement all of the commission’s recommendations. real and the “innumerable” investigations, inquiries and reports that have been published in the three decades since then.

Thorpe said the cumulative impact on Aboriginal families and communities from the ongoing deaths in custody was clear.

“This is relentless and traumatic for our people,” he said. “The system is broken. Thirty years after the royal commission, how is it possible that our people continue to die in custody and not a single person or institution has been held accountable? When will we have peace? “

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