SYDNEY - As protests take place in the United States of America, indigenous families who have had bad experiences with law enforcement say police brutality is a serious problem in Australia. Aboriginal Australians make up about 3 percent of the total population, but almost a third of the prison population are indigenous.
David Dungay Jr died in a prison hospital in Sydney in 2015 after being forcibly moved to an observation cell, restrained face down by guards, and sedated. The incident was captured on video, and the inmate was heard telling staff that he could not breathe ten times. The 26-year old Australian Aboriginal man eventually lost consciousness and could not be revived.
For his family, the death of George Floyd many thousands of kilometers away in the US state of Minnesota has brought back traumatic memories. They believe the two men died in similar circumstances, although David Dungay Jr.’s death attracted no international headlines and no formal charges were made.
His mother Leetona Dungay believes George Floyd’s death is another example of deep-seated racism.
“It was very devastating to look at that, too, because of the memory of putting my son in the ground just like that had to put George (Floyd), their son, in the ground. Black lives do matter and Aboriginal lives matter. David Junior life’s matter(s),” Dungay said.
More than 430 indigenous Australians have died in custody since a landmark inquiry in the early 1990s. The royal commission made sweeping recommendations. Its key finding was the need to reduce the rate at which Aboriginal people are jailed. That has not happened.
30 percent of Australia’s prison inmates are indigenous, as are half of those in youth detention. However, Australia’s original inhabitants make up just 3 percent of the national population.
Campaigners have long argued that Aboriginal Australians suffer widespread racism and discrimination.
This week, an Australian police officer was filmed tripping up an Aboriginal boy, who was then pinned to the ground. Onlookers claim unnecessary force was used, but assistant police commissioner Mick Willing says it was not an act of brutality.
“I am concerned that people will use this video, this footage, to create it into something it is not. As I said, we are all well aware of what is happening overseas but this is not the United States of America. We have very, very good relations with our local community,” Willing said.
Four Australian states have indigenous courts. They abide by Australian law, but allow Aboriginal elders to take part in the process to help create a more culturally-sensitive forum for sentencing Indigenous offenders.
Researchers say that Aboriginal people have lived in Australia for at least 65,000 years, and believe that this predates the human settlement of Europe and the Americas. Their land was colonized by the British in 1788.
Despite a rich history and enduring culture, the Aboriginal people suffer high rates of poverty, ill-health and imprisonment.