Commissioner calls out over-policing of First Nations people

By Melissa Coade

Wednesday March 16, 2022

June Oscar
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar. (AAP Image/ Lucy Hughes Jones)

Guns should not be carried by police officers in Indigenous communities, according to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner June Oscar.

Oscar endorsed the calls from the Yuendumu community and Warlpiri people for police officers to cease carrying firearms in their communities, following the fatal shooting of Kumanjayi Walker two years ago.

Constable Zachary Rolfe was recently found not-guilty of Walker’s murder in 2019 following a five-week jury trial in the Northern Territory. Now the NT’s anti-corruption commissioner is considering an inquiry into Rolfe’s arrest four days after Walker’s death. 

“Walker’s family have been brave, courageous, and determined to bring the trial to public attention during this painful period. And now they continue to call for urgent reforms,” Oscar said.

“I stand with them in their ongoing pursuit of justice for all First Nations peoples.”

Elders and Indigenous liaison officers should hold decision-making positions in policing matters, Oscar said, and the government must make substantial investments in community supports and trauma-informed responses to counteract the over-policing of First Nations people. 

The commissioner also called for the implementation of all recommendations made by the 1987 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody from 30 years ago. More than 500 Indigenous people have died in custody since those recommendations were made. 

“Mass incarceration and the deaths of First Nations people when in contact with the justice system must end,” Oscar said. 

“We have long held the solutions, and countless inquires and reports have given us the way forward. But time and again we fail to effectively implement them, and as a result we continue to see First Nations men, women and children dying in our so-called justice system. Enough is enough.”

First Nations people have been the victim of several recent police shootings, with a young Indigenous man currently in a critical condition after being shot six times by a police officer near Darwin.

The NT police association has rejected the calls for a gun ban in remote Aboriginal communities with president Paul McCue saying on Monday that the union did not support such measures. 

“It was avoidable, but members of the police force have the right to protect themselves, and to protect others.

“They put their lives on the line to do that, and we do not support the removal of firearms,” McCue said. 

Oscar noted that mass incarceration and over-policing of First Nations people in Australia was driven by systemic and structural problems. She said changes to the justice system and more were needed to redress the ‘grave injustice of Indigenous deaths’.


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