Beto's Blood

The NSW Police Force have as their motto 'Culpam Poena Premit Comes', which means that punishment closely follows guilt, but somehow in the case of the death of Roberto Laudisio Curti, we are unlikely to see that motto put to practice. The family of Roberto Laudisio Curti will be fighting an uphill battle to see that punishment follows guilt, with the NSW Police Force in this case being the guilty perpetrators.

There is little doubt that the police officers who tasered, pepper-sprayed and applied a half a ton of pressure to Roberto's body were guilty. What they are guilty of is a matter for debate: manslaughter, assault, abuse of power, perjury and perverting the course of justice are but a few contenders for the charge sheet.

The coroners findings conclude with the dry and factual statement that "Roberto Laudisio Curti died shortly after 6am on March 18, 2012, in Pitt Street, Sydney, in the State of New South Wales, of undetermined causes, in the course of being restrained by members of the New South Wales Police Force."

What precede this finding are a dozen pages of scathing criticisms of police conduct in the case. Coroner Jerram concludes that "it is impossible to believe that he would have died but for the actions of police"; that their actions were "reckless, careless, dangerous and excessively forceful" and that they constituted an abuse of power. She also clearly alludes to perjury and perversion of the course of justice in what appears to be a coordinated cover-up by the officers involved.

She singled out Cooper, a sergeant who has since been shamelessly promoted to Inspector, for giving evidence that was "self-contradictory, self-serving and obscure" and describes his actions on the fateful night and since that night "little short of contemptible".

So, what now?

We could let the police handle the next phase. We would then likely to see a token investigation by officers investigating their peers, leading to token outcomes and token recommendations. The next victim of Police brutality, a Roberto Curti with a different name, will certainly not be a token. This time it may be your son, your nephew or your brother.

In Biblical times, when a man was killed and his killer was unknown, the city elders would stand up and say ‘Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see'.

Unfortunately for us, our city elders cannot say this, for while eleven officers caused Roberto to die with their bare hands, the rest of us are guilty by our silence, by our feigned blindness and our unquestioning acceptance of police authority.

After all, when criminal gangs bash someone to death, they commit an awful crime, but it is their hands alone that are awash with blood. We can read about it in the morning paper, shake our heads and go on to sip our coffee and eat out toast. However, when officers of the state act in a thuggish manner that leads to a loss of life, they do so in our name. They do so with guns and tasers paid for by our taxes. They do so with legislative powers enacted by our votes. But mostly, they do so by virtue of our silence.

We can only rectify that and hope to find forgiveness from the Curti family by ensuring that the next steps in this saga follow a process that is fair and impartial, that we consider an investigation with criminal ramifications, that we adopt radical changes to the way police deal with tasers; that we approach policing people in altered or diminished states of mind with health & safety as a paramount first; and that we ensure that the powers we give police are always kept in check.

Until we do that, we all have Roberto’s blood on our hands.