To all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, please note this article contains the name of a deceased person.
National Reconciliation Week in Australia ends today on a sombre note. Over the past few days, we have watched the unfolding situation in America in horror, from the death of George Floyd at the hands of police, to protests that have become an uprising, smashed windows, burning cars, tear gas, rubber bullets, curfews, and a leader declaring he will take military action on his people. Amidst all this, we've heard a growing narrative from our fellow Australians: This is so terrible. This is so racist. I'm glad my country is not racist. When a Nine news reporter made comments in response to interviewing a protester ‘that people in Australia doesn’t have the understanding of the history of police killing here,’ we were ashamed. Our country Australia was founded on violence, massacres and frontier wars of our people. Those lives mattered. Our history, and our present, need to be known.
Since the 1991 Royal Commission, there have been more than 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody, with not one police officer held criminally responsible. That is a rate of 15 deaths per year over three decades. Australia incarcerates Indigenous people at the world’s highest rate. Aboriginal adults are incarcerated now at five times the rate as black South Africans were during the days of apartheid.
The same thing that happened in the US on May 25 happens here in Australia ALL the time. For Indigenous people, this is our lived reality, and it is followed by silence. As a non-Aboriginal Australian, it is important for you to know that outrage for what has happened to George Floyd is legitimate. This is what we live with. We want you to stand with us. The behaviour that you walk past is the behaviour you accept – so ask yourself, is this the kind of country I want to live in?
National Reconciliation Week is a time for all Australians to learn about our shared history, culture and achievements, but the loudest voices during Reconciliation week have been those of our Indigenous brothers and sisters speaking out. A very few corporates have demonstrated unity. Our government has been silent.
What is happening in the US is not an isolated incident to that country alone. The very last words of George Floyd, “I can’t breathe”, were also some of the last words repeated by Aboriginal man Mr Dungay who died in Long Bay Prison.
While all of this has overshadowed our Reconciliation Week here in Australia, at least it has shone a light on the fact that people of colour continue to face racism, discrimination and injustice, and that we still have a long way to go to overcome the history and past. We all can do better.
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