Narelda Jacobs speaks out against Indigenous deaths in custody


nerelda jacobs indigenous deaths in custody aboriginal
Photo: Network 10

Warning: This article includes the names of Indigenous Australians who have died.

Indigenous journalist Narelda Jacobs has warned Australians not to “bury our heads in the sand” about Aboriginal deaths in custody as Black Lives Matter protests sweep the world.

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Tens of thousands flooded the streets of Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane last weekend to rally against both Aboriginal deaths in custody and the death of US man George Floyd.

Speaking on Studio 10, Jacobs said Australian “hearts were breaking” watching the unrest in the US after the African-American man’s death.

But in the emotional segment, she drew attention to the 437 Indigenous Australians who have died in custody since a 1991 Royal Commission into the issue.

“A lot of people here… I’ve heard them say lucky we live in Australia,” she said.

“I quickly thought, well it’s not so lucky for the families who have had loved ones die in custody since 1991 in Australia.

“I need to say I have the utmost respect for police [and] authorities in general. They’re keeping us safe during the pandemic.

“It’s important though, we don’t bury our heads in the sand or be ignorant.

“We need to be aware of the country that we live in, and it’s not perfect… We currently have two police officers in Australia charged with murder.”

Narelda Jacobs highlights deaths in WA, NT and NSW

Last September, a police officer fatally shot Indigenous woman Joyce Clarke in the street in Geraldton in Western Australia.

“Her family called police to help, as the last resort to help them,” Narelda Jacobs explained.

“She had mental health issues. She’d just been released from prison. She was known to police and authorities. They shot her dead.”

A police officer also allegedly shot 19-year-old Aboriginal man Kumanjayi Walker during an arrest in the Northern Territory in November.

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“The police officer is charged with his murder. We can only hope that justice will take its course,” she said.

“From what I’ve read, we’ve never seen a police officer convicted of murder during an arrest, or a death in custody.”

Jacobs also highlighted the case of David Dungay, who died in Sydney’s Long Bay Jail in 2015, and said she “can’t believe he’s not a household name” in Australia.

Similar to George Floyd, Dungay shouted “I can’t breathe” a dozen times after five guards pinned him to the floor.

“They’re responding, ‘If you can talk, you can breathe.’ Moments later, he goes limp. He died,” Jacobs said.

Last year, a coroner found the restraint was a contributing factor but cleared the guards of malicious intent.

“[The coroner] called for changes to their training regime,” Jacobs said.

“It seems to be for the coroners to recommend these changes, but for the police services around the states to actually make sure they’re adhered to. It’s about saving lives.”

David Dungay’s mother Leetona and sister Christine led the Black Lives Matter protest in Sydney on Saturday.

Leetona Dungay told ABC’s Q+A on Monday night the family have “a long fight ahead to get justice.”

“I’m asking the panel, will you join us to demand charges against the people responsible for my son’s death?” she said.

Royal Commission recommendations ‘ignored’

Advocacy group Change the Record has called on all levels of governments to commit to ending Indigenous deaths in police custody.

Co-chair Cheryl Axleby said the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody “was meant to put an end to our people dying in cells.”

Instead, its recommendations were largely ignored and 437 have died since then, according to data published by the Guardian.

“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are dying in police and prison cells for two reasons,” Axleby said.

“Discriminatory policies which see us arrested at extraordinary rates, and the discriminatory treatment police and correctional authorities subject us to. This must change.”

Last week, the family of Indigenous woman Tanya Day said the deaths are “a stain on this country”.

A coroner found the Yorta Yorta woman’s death in a Victorian police station in 2017 was “clearly preventable”.

“We know our mum would have been treated differently and would still be alive today if she was a non-Indigenous person,” Day’s family said in a statement.

“We lost our mother in the cruellest of circumstances.

“No family should ever have to go through that. Aboriginal deaths in custody must end.”

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