CLIMATE of DEATH - justice denied means more will die

CLIMATE of DEATH - justice denied means more will die, by Gerry Georgatos (courtesy of the National Indigenous Times -

"We have to get rid of racist cops. I don't want to dwell on the past but I have grown up bitter," said Nyungar Elder Ben Taylor. Mr Taylor is on the mark when he says, "They have been killing our people for two hundred years."

John Pat is dead. Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee is dead. T.J.Hickey is dead. Dion Woods is dead. Grantley Winmar is dead. Elder Mr Ward is dead. Peter Clarke is dead. Terrance Briscoe is dead. There have been more than 300 Aboriginal deaths in custody since 1991 - the year of the 339 recommendations from the 1987-1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Since 1980 and to 2012 there have been nearly 3,000 deaths in custody - Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, one of the world's worst death in custody rates.

On 28 September 1983 a young life came to an end that sent a community into tears before it became rage and outrage dulled into anguish and sorrow by the passing of time and a litany of broken lives. The tears of 28 September 1983 filled Roebourne, breaking the hearts of its Yindjibarndi peoples. A mother lost her eldest son, 16 years young. John Pat's death contributed to the call for an inquiry into Aboriginal deaths.

Some things have changed however not enough has changed. John Pat's mother Mavis remembers him every hour of every day and not just on September 28 - there is a hole in her heart that nothing can mend, such is a mother's pain.

I have seen Mother Mavis cry for her son, John Pat, who is not lost to her, nor is he lost to his sister and brother however they are emotionally emaciated by the anguish of the pain that his life is one that has not been lived as it should have been. For John Pat was 16 years young when racism murdered him.

Mother Mavis's pain is shattering, often bringing her to her knees, her head buried in her arms or in her lap, and her cries often heard by others. Her son did not die in an accident, her son did not die of illness, he did not die by some means that in the least could make some sense - her son was stolen from life by the rapacious prejudices of racism - her son was a 'black cunt' bashed to death. The colour of his skin, his very identity, historical and contemporary, cultural and political were the liabilities that the ugliness of prejudice caught in its net. Mother Mavis and her two remaining children, John's younger sister and brother, live day in day out, slipping into every sleep with the rush of thoughts that their brother died not because of who he was in his mind's slopes or in his heart's valleys but rather for who he wasn't – he was not born ‘white’ or at least non-Aboriginal. He was someone the Saturnalian brimstone of ill-kept racism, the taunting simmer of vicious hate made inferior in allowing others to consider themselves superior and with such assumption that they could believe that "a black cunt" like John Pat should not walk alongside them.

To remember the life lost, of young John Pat, with less passion and with fermented rationales is to misunderstand and misrepresent racism and the hate that it obliges - it is to allow for racism to steady a foothold. His death must be remembered with the same despair that the Roebourne community greeted the shocking news - when four off-duty police officers and an off-duty police aide, inebriated by the effects of alcohol and by the bitter tasting wash of their prejudices, and by generations of cruel and nescient stereotypes shoved down their throats, vilified the life out of this boy.

On September 28, 2012 once again 100 people coalesced to remember John Pat, his life, its meaning, the legacy, to honour his passing, his spirit, and to honour the future, our unfolding human rights language - that John Pat lives on in our urges for a better world, one far removed from the vacuum of senseless inhumanity that in a mere fifteen minutes when police officers and young Aboriginal youth clashed young John Pat would leave this life. 100 folk, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, from far and wide, remembered John Pat at the now historical museum-like Fremantle Prison where a memorial stands forever to young John, inscribed with the ode dedicated to John Pat by the late Dr Jack Davis. Every year we come to the Memorial to remember John Pat, and at times his mother too, from Roebourne afar. Mother Mavis, and her youngest son, Glen, have sat through the proceedings again and again, in a well of tears as if 29 or 28 or 27 years were yesterday. Glen was 8 years old when his brother twice his age was taken from him.

On September 28 2000 the Australian Human Rights Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner Dr Bill Jonas said, "His death, investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, became for Aboriginal people a symbol of injustice and oppression. But more than a decade after the Royal Commission, Aborigines are still dying in custody at alarming rates. And they continue to be imprisoned for minor offences despite the recommendations of the Royal Commission that jail should be a punishment of last resort." Dr Jonas continued, "The over-representation of Indigenous people in the criminal justice is a continuing crisis. All levels of government have failed to respond adequately to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and the draconian mandatory sentencing regimes of the NT and WA have ensured that Aboriginal people continue to be jailed for trivial offences. John Pat was almost 17 years old when he was found dead in a police station lock-up in Roebourne, Western Australia on 28 September 1983. He died of head injuries sustained during a fight with off-duty police officers outside the local Victoria Hotel. Four officers and a police aide were later charged with his manslaughter but acquitted at trial."

Dr Jonas continued, "The number of Indigenous deaths in custody in the decade since the Royal Commission has been 150% the rate in the decade prior to the Royal Commission. To September 1999 there have been 147 Indigenous deaths in custody, compared to 99 in the decade before the Royal Commission. From October 1999 to 30 May 2000, there were a further eight Aboriginal deaths in custody in Western Australia alone. From 1988 to 1998, the Indigenous prisoner population (across all age groups) more than doubled. It has grown faster than non-Indigenous prisoner rates in all jurisdictions. 17.2% of all prison deaths in the 1990s have been Indigenous people, compared to 12.1% in the 1980s. The Royal Commission found that the reason Aboriginal people die in custody at such an alarming rate is because of the sheer numbers in custody. States and territories must redouble their efforts to reduce the rate of incarceration of Aboriginal people in the criminal justice process. It is at times like these - when Australia is a proud nation basking in international attention - that we should remember to refocus our efforts to protect the poor, the sick, the marginalised among us. And we should remember the toll that imprisonment for minor offences has taken on our Indigenous people."

During the evening of what would be John Pat's last day of life, the four off-duty police officers and the police aide came to the Victoria Hotel after a night of revelry and drinking at the local golf club. What would come to pass in the minutes ahead would tear a hole so deep in Mother Mavis Pat that a world would cave in within it and sink the hopes of a family and scar a community - for Roebourne, in the heart of Yindjibarndi, is known Australia-wide for the death of John Pat, and not for its red earth, its yellow sands, the vast landscapes, or for the warm seas nearby that wash its pebbles and cobble - there are few people who bring on the mention of Roebourne without thinking of the vile racism that killed John Pat - Roebourne's is to Western Australia what Birmingham is to Alabama.

Mother Mavis's son was 'found' dead in a prison cell, his head having been smashed on the hard earth after falling backwards from the blows to his head thrashed from the subterfuge of a violent one-sided altercation with the off-duty police officers. How can Mother Mavis Pat forget the loss of her son? - she cannot, and the pain has not eased in the 29 years since, and if anything it has crippled her. She bore her son to a witness of the world which innocence could not imagine, a tale it could not tell, and her son came into it without warning. In the fullness of a life too brief young John Pat learned of a world that saw him cold, and with the shrill of sheer chill, weeding fears and an austere dominion of thorny meaninglessness.

In the decade since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommendations, - 339 recommendations - Aboriginal deaths in custody went up by 150%. This trend continued during the last ten years. Indeed, it is 21 years since a royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody and yet little seems to have changed. Indeed, in terms of the Australian Institute of Criminology's crude totals, the numbers have got worse, human lives are still being lost. In terms of proportion to total deaths in custody, Aboriginal deaths are proportionately higher than they were three and two decades ago. Deaths in custody is a horrific problem for Australia, and for the national moral compass, for Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples. Australia has a worse death in custody record, both prison-custodial related and police-custodial related than most other nations of our equivalent social wealth or thereabouts - Australia, in terms of proportion to population rates and proportion to prison population rates has a worse record than England, Wales and Scotland, and has incarceration rates for our Aboriginal peoples are higher than South Africa and including Apartheid South Africa. Australia is a culture harsh on its poorest, harsh on the downtrodden and this is evidenced by our prison incarceration rates - we have the world's highest rates of incarceration of Aboriginal peoples - in addition Australia has doubled the prison population from 15,000 to 30,000 from 1991 to 2011. It is fair to argue that racism drives the criminal justice system, it is fair to argue that legislators are driven in their judgments by the inter-generational stereotypes shoved down people’s throats by the simple minds of those past and present. It is not rocket scientists who are our parliamentarians but mostly ordinary folk, many who struggle to disassociate with origins-of-thinking generations old. How else do you explain the doubling of the prison population? How else do you explain that 26% of the Australian prison population are Aboriginal peoples? Western Australia is more racist than other states, and only challenged by the Northern Territory - Western Australia has 13 jails, and 41% of its prison population is Aboriginal. Looking closer at this let us understand that 4,500 prisoners are hulked into these 13 prisons however 2,000 of them are Aboriginal. Let us consider that the total Aboriginal population of Western Australia is almost 80,000. Therefore 1 in 40 Aboriginal people in Western Australia will be spending tonight in a cold dank prison cell. 1 in 20 Western Australian Aboriginal males will be spending the night in a prison cell, and for Aboriginal youth the rates are much worse. Are West Australian Aboriginals this bad or is it that Western Australia is harsh, very harsh on its Aboriginal peoples? Is West Australia the hostile racist environment that lived wild on September 28, 1983, when John Pat went to the aid of a friend, whom a police officer called a 'little black cunt' and swore he'd get?

Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia, proportion to population are the world's most incarcerated peoples - with Aboriginal peoples only 3 per cent of the total State population. Western Australia incarcerates the Aboriginal peoples of its State at nine times the rate of Apartheid South Africa, while Australia incarcerates Aboriginal peoples at a national rate of five times the Apartheid South African rate. Something is clearly wrong. In terms of proportion to total prison population the world record is tragically held by the Northern Territory where 84 per cent of its prison population is Aboriginal despite Aboriginal peoples comprising 28 per cent of the total Territory population.

Last year, I spoke to Mother Mavis and brother Glen at the end of the memorial's remembrance of a son and brother, and their pain was as deep as those that have come before. I was reminded of pain as if past and present collapse in time, and Roebourne and Fremantle are the same earth, as if John had walked before us. Mother Mavis expected the world to change when the royal commission was called. Singed with grief, felled by a heap of racism, she said in a statement to the royal commission, "I don't know what's going to come out of the royal commission but I hope it makes everything better for Aboriginal people." Near thirty years later Mother Mavis knows all too well that little has changed. Alcohol numbs the pain when it grips her so tight that she can bear no more.

The off-duty police officers had continued their drinking at Roebourne's Victoria Hotel before they unnecessarily brawled, and with great viciousness, with the local Aboriginal youth who had also been drinking. The fight never had to have happened, it was a choice, a decision, a conviction, it was brought on needlessly however with the highest cost, that of a human life and with a hurt through so many that its pervasiveness is yet to yield. The off-duty police officers could have walked away, most certainly, or acted with a modicum of humanity, instead hate and spite urged them on. Prejudices with their origins-of-thinking generations old, and generations removed, fired their synapses, flushing morbidly their thinking. 1983 was not 1933 and the excuses of the police officers and the police aide run thin. John Pat died of head injuries, a torn aorta and his bruised and battered body finished up a thornbush of broken ribs. One witness was straightforward with testimony to the Supreme Court in 1984, of the unconscious and likely lifeless John Pat - that he was "thrown like a dead kangaroo" into the back of a police van.

WA's current shadow attorney-general, John Quigley, was the police lawyer who defended the four police officers and the police aide who were brought to trial over John Pat's death. Earlier last year, in a major newspaper John Quigley was quoted, "In lieu of all the public concern and the media about John Pat's death at the time it was a great victory to win the case." I typed a text on my mobile phone and sent it to John Quigley, whom I know, "John, your insensitive statement will go down like a lead balloon with Aboriginal peoples and communities and it will cut right through the bone with the families long torn and devastated." The outrage from John Pat's death contributed to the call for the royal commission, and flowered, for only a few short springs, a trickle of hope.

The late Dr Jack Davis wrote in his book, John Pat and other poems, "Write of life, the pious said, forget the past, the past is dead. But all I see, in front of me is a concrete floor, a cell door, and John Pat." In every visit I make to a prison, I see John Pat in everyone, young and older, and every prison cell I walk past I see the dank concrete floors and what little boys, and girls, with innocence born, will grow up to see day in day out, with heads lowered, concrete floors and John Pat. The pigment of their skin and the holes in their pockets telling them of a difference which was once unknown to them and in a better world would be unknown.

The Coronial Inquest which began on 31 October, 1983 during 21 days, heard from seventy-seven witnesses. On February 6, 1984, four police officers and a police aide were committed for trial on charges of manslaughter and they were brought before the Supreme Court in Karratha on 30 April 1984. An all-white jury of 12 men and three women acquitted them. There has never been a successful prosecution against any police or prison officer in that they contributed an unnatural hand in a police or prison custodial related incident. Let us remind ourselves that it took confrontational protests and the burning of the Palm Island Police Station to bring to the light of day the death in police custody of Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee and yet justice has not been done, Officer Craig Hurley is yet to atone while Palm Island councillor Lex Wootton was sent to prison.

Roebourne's name came to everyone's lips with John Pat's death. It all started when one local boy, Ashley James, was threatened by one of the off-duty police officers when he sought to make a purchase from the hotel's bottle shop. The off duty police officer was heard to say, "We'll get you, you black cunt."

With racism fuelling the inebriated police officer, and the culture of favour dispensation and nepotism indemnifying those uniformed in the 'blue', he followed Ashley James. Verbal abuse was served on the youth and it was so loud that it alerted the other officers to the prospect of a melee. The cruelty of the policeman pursuant of his prey led to him knocking Ashley James to the ground. Let us ensure the context of the day is understood, in that it was not the fact the officers were inebriated that caused the violence. It may have compounded the situation, however it was their racism, and this should not be argued against. Ashley James fuelled with anger retaliated and hence a pronounced brawl ensued. Some of the other Aboriginal youth, including John Pat tried to intervene and break up the brawl, to rescue their mate however they found themselves either attacked by the other officers or drawn into the fight. Apparently, John Pat had tried to pull Ashley James away from the heart of the brawl. It was at this point that one of the off-duty policemen, with an obvious deep hate wandering in his heart, walked up to John Pat and punched him in the mouth. A number of blows to John Pat spiralled from the officer’s hateful heart. A witness would testify, "he fell back, and didn't get up. I heard his head hit the road." John Pat was not the victim of just one punch, however of many punches. His life may have ended just after his head hit the road however such mitigation is foolhardy - the punches that struck him in the head, after his body was battered, and with such a force that they sent him pummelling to the ground and with such force that his head was whipped back on its neck’s nape that it would hit the ground before the rest of his body. The punches that him sent spiralling back, head first, to the earth are what killed him. Don’t blame the hard earth, this is outrageous and gutless. An intention was behind the attack on John Pat. The involved police officers may have been acquitted however till the end of days they carry with them a wrong that lies and cowardice cannot undo, they carry with them the fact they slaughtered the life out of a young man and little can perceptually modify this - John Pat was a victim, and the police officers and others past and present, inter-generational prejudices were and are the perpetrators. Aboriginal Elder, the late Dr Jack Davis AO, BEM once said, “The beginning of the cause of deaths in custody does not occur within the confines of police and prison cells or in the minds of the victims. Initially, it starts in the minds of those who allow it to happen.”

During July, 2010, Western Australian Fremantle federal member of parliament Melissa Parke called for a royal commission into the maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples before the criminal justice system. This call came in light of the death of the Warburton Elder, Mr Ward, in the back of a prisoner transport vehicle when he was burnt to death in the hot metal heat he was trapped in on a 43 degree day on a 360 kilometre journey of death from Laverton to Kalgoorlie. His cries of anguish were ignored by the drivers. Ms Parke said the state coroner had found that “Mr Ward had suffered a terrible death while in custody which was wholly unnecessary and avoidable.” So too was the death of John Pat, and of Mulrunji Doomadjee and of T.J. Hickey, and this year of 28 year old Terrance Briscoe in an Alice Springs police cell and of so many others. The WA’s Director of Public Prosecutions Joe McGrath publically announced criminal charges would not be laid over Mr Ward’s death.

Ms Parke said, “The circumstances of Mr Ward’s death, just 18 days before the National Apology to Indigenous Australians, demand both justice and accountability. Accountability not simply on the part of the two G4S drivers involved, who, apart from any legal liability, showed an abysmal lack of human decency, but also on the part of the police, Corrective Services, the Department of the Attorney-General and the multinational company G4S.”

Most importantly, and indicative of a system underwritten by prejudices, biases, racism, and social engineering, and which the origins-of-the thinking that prevailed this dominion continue inter-generationally to this day, Ms Parke said, “In 1901 the WA member of Parliament for Kalgoorlie, Hugh Mahon moved a motion calling for a royal commission into the conditions of Aboriginal people in WA and the administration of justice in the lower courts of the state.” It was not heeded. Ms Parke said, “110 years later after that tabling of that motion we are here again with calls for inquiries into deaths in custody.”

Last year Emma Purdy in her widely published article "A sick prison still claiming lives" wrote of the death of Mr Winmar in the SERCO managed prison of Acacia, on the outskirts of Perth, "Public anger was fuelled even further when (the custodial death of Dion Woods) was followed less than a week later by that of 39-year-old father of five Grantley Winmar in Sir Charles Gardiner Hospital, also in Perth, on 22 March 2010. Although Winmar had previously suffered two strokes and been diagnosed with meningitis, when he became ill in WA's Acacia Prison he was treated only with aspirin, shortly after which he passed into a coma from which he never recovered. Winmar had served all but three weeks of a six-month sentence for driving without a licence."

"His brother, Richard Winmar, told the West Australian the day after his death that the family were told by doctors there had been bleeding on his brain for six to seven days while he was in jail. He said Winmar had called his mother from prison and said his head felt like it was 'about to explode', but that prison officers had simply given him aspirin and told him to return to his cell."

Ms Purdy reported that WA's DCS assistant commissioner, Graeme Doyle, said: "I have received a full rundown of Mr Winmar's medical treatment over the past several weeks and I am satisfied he was treated promptly and appropriately." The DCS declined to comment further to Ms Purdy.

What Ms Purdy describes is thematic of what occurs in Australia's prison and police custodial jurisdictions, and I have long come to the conclusion that our prisons, as they are, are failed systems.

The Roebourne brawl between the off-duty police officers and Aboriginal youth lasted less than fifteen minutes, and with on-duty police arriving as the remnants of the brawl lingered, as battered and bruised Aboriginal youth were trashed into submission. The testimonies of the event are disturbing and stir the conscience of the reader - there are those who state the lifeless-like body of John Pat was kicked by a policeman, and that another policeman lifted his head by the hair to view his state. Nearby residents testified that six other youths were beaten by the off-duty police officers and some were being beaten while John Pat lay unconscious and possibly dead.

The forensic pathologist, Dr John Hinton reported that John Pat died of multiple injuries, his head injuries caused swelling and a brain haemorrhage, and that indeed he was victim to at least ten blows to his head. There were half a dozen bruises above his right ear and therefore at one stage he had been degenerated into a punching bag. The bruises and injuries to the rest of his body were so horrific that his aorta was torn, and to one family member this is as if his heart had been broken by the violence of man in the same ways the heart of Aboriginal peoples had been broken by those who chose for far too long to treat them as lesser.

John Pat’s body was laid in a police cell, however after it was confirmed he was dead, police officers washed him prior to photographs of his body being taken. During the Coroner's Inquest investigating police officer Detective Sergeant Scott when cross-examined commented that it appeared the Roebourne Police could have engaged in a perversion of the course of justice and that they may have falsified police statements and records. To Aboriginal peoples this is nothing new, it is not news to them and for to time to come will continue to not be news. Only last year the Corruption Crimes Commission of Western Australia (CCCWA) had found that police officers at the East Perth police station as recent as 2009 had fabricated charges against multiple taser victim Kevin Spratt, and yet these police officers continue in their roles despite the CCCWA ordering the quashing of the charges. These police officers and their actions, and the relative inaction by the WA Police to bring them to account casts a dark pall of aspersions against the whole of the WA Police.

My father who now struggles with the 83rd year of his life, a working class man who had only one year of school education, taught me as a young child, as he did my five brothers and sisters, that in life "always do what is right, and when people ask of you to account for your actions and your words be prepared at all times to do so."

I can write with depth analysing the police reports and court transcripts and I am well versed in them however I believe it is more important that 29 years after the death of young John Pat not to look into what we inherently know was a crime, was inhumane, was unnecessarily violent, was a cover-up, was cowardly by the courts of the day to deflect and was the burning hot racism of Western Australia’s police and of all those who judge rather than stand alongside and get to know one another, that instead I write of the harrowing pain, the anguish that lingers in the affected, such as Mother Mavis and brother Glen, metastatic wounds, moving like the wind and hurting like fleshed razor-wire, pain without borders, from people to people, Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. With the understanding of what happened comes a view of a world filled with distrust; a mistrust of public institutions, of the police, of the criminal justice system, of our parliaments, a loss of faith in our parliamentarians. With this stress on the aspirations of social cohesion there is a separation of peoples, the induction of class and race warfare, poverty and a hardening of souls that for some can lead to violence and other crime.

In many ways strikingly similar to John Pat's death is the death of Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee and once again strikingly similar is the racism preventing the political will for anyone to do anything significant about a black man's death at the hands of police officers.

On November 19, 2004 Mr Doomadgee was walking his dog on Palm Island, Queensland, and he was singing "Who let the dogs out?" Sergeant Craig Hurley took offence instead of walking on. Allegedly Mr Doomadgee swore at the officer despite others within vicinity testifying they did not hear anything however Mr Doomadgee is dead and we have only the officer's testimony. Seargent Hurley took offence and arrested Mr Doomadgee. At the watch house, apparently after a 'scuffle' according to Sergeant Hurley he threw him into the police cell. The 201cm 115k officer admitted to throwing some punches at the 181cm 74k Mr Doomadgee.

An hour later Mr Doomadgee was dead.

Despite other police officers at the watch house, "none of them heard or saw anything." Officer Hurley said he noticed Mr Doomadgee "motionless" and "cold" when touching him. He applied an "arousal technique" by "kicking him twice" but Mr Doomadgee remained motionless.

An ambulance was called however it took fifteen minutes to arrive however in that time not once did any police officers attempt to resuscitate Mr Doomadgee.

A few days later Palm Island people were filled with doubts and rage, and the watch house is burned down however this does not atone for a black man dead in a police cell - the cries went out for justice however remain unheard as did Mr Doomadgee's cries by everyone in the watch house in a climate of death.

The business of police investigating police ensures that Senior Sergeant Hurley is not charged and instead receives various confidential payouts from the Queensland State Government. I have long advocated for independent - demarcated - police and prison inspectorates to undertake such investigations and other complaints of maltreatment and various allegations of injustices.

Police told investigating pathologist Guy Lampe that Mr Doomadgee had swallowed bleach instead that he had been punched to death.

After three months of paid leave, Sergeant Hurley is appointed as a duty officer on the Gold Coast however in September 2006 Coroner Christine Clements found that Mr Doomadgee died of punches inflicted by Sergeant Hurley.

Coroner Clements accused the police of failing to adequately investigate the death of Mr Doomadgee. Most importantly Coroner Clements stated that Mr Doomadgee should never have been arrested, just as Mr Ward should not have, just as Mr Briscoe should not have, just as so many should not have been arrested.

Mr Patrick Bramwell who was in the police cells at the time Mr Doomadgee died testified he remembered hearing him cry out "Help, help, please help me..." Mr Bramwell testified that Sergeant Hurley said to Mr Doomadgee, "Do you want more?"

A Queensland Crimes and Misconduct Commission inquiry into Mr Doomadgee's death finds that no charges can be laid against the police officer. However on this occasion as with the public outcries after John Pat's death, public outcries and sustained news media coverage led to justice Sir Laurence Street appointed to review the death of Mr Doomadgee on the Palm Island police watch house cell floor.

On January 4 2007 the review commenced however the key witness, Patrick Bramwell was found hanged on Palm Island on January 16. A family member alleged that Mr Bramwell had earlier said to relatives he had been threatened by a police officer in the event he testified. However on January 26, the review overturned the DPP's decision not to lay charges and instead recommends that Sergeant Hurley was charged with manslaughter. Like the five police officers accused of killing John Pat and brought before trial, so too was Sergeant Hurley in June 2007 - before an all-white jury in Townsville.

Sergeant Hurley was acquitted.

On October 24, 2008 Palm Island Elder and former councillor Lex Wotton received 7 years in response to the Palm Island riots following Mr Doomadgee's death.

On July 19, 2010 Mr Wotton was released however the Queensland Government controversially placed an order upon him as a condition of release that he cannot publicly speak about Mr Doomadgee.

Broken lives haunt and Mr Doomadgee's only son, 18 year old son Eric was found hanged in Palm Island bushland on July 19, 2010 - it was said this occurred after earlier being taken for a drive by police.

On May 14 2010 another Coronial Inquiry found that police had colluded to protect Senior Sergeant Hurley and shortly after a Queensland Crimes and Misconduct Commission report leaked to the media stated that up to seven police officers should be charged, but none have ever been charged. The Commission's chairperson Martin Moynihan clashed with the Anna Bligh Government in that there is a "culture of self-protection" for police. Ms Bligh dismissed calls for a Royal Commission and instead accepted the April 2011 410 page report by Queensland Deputy Police Commissioner Kathy Rynders that no police officer needed to be disciplined in relation to the death of Mr Doomadgee. She recommended 'managerial guidance' for one of the officers. So it goes that it continues to appear to Aboriginal people that it is not a crime for police officers to kill someone black.

Every September 28, John Pat is remembered at a memorial event in the grounds of the museum-like Fremantle Prison. I cannot forget Mother Mavis Pat and John’s youngest sibling, Glen Lee at last year's memorial as they carried their grief that time has not let rest. It was an emotional one full of tears however for some amidst the wash of tears there was the glimmer of hope and of sunshine myriad bright. The Western Australian Deaths in Custody Watch Committee coordinated the event which brought together some 100 gatherers and mourners. Mother Mavis Pat laid a wreath by her son’s memorial and 29 years later a mother’s harrowing pain still languishing evident as she could not move from the memorial for many minutes, and for those there these minutes remain solid in time, in the slopes and valleys of our minds, in the landscape of our soul, wandering in our consciousness. Mother Mavis, her body wretched over her son’s memorial site, his spirit briefly alive in our awareness of him, her tears trickled and then streamed, and us who watched welled with tears, some holding them back and others could not, and the chill of her stifled cries cut a chill through this sunny day.

I paid my respects to Mother Mavis and to brother Glen and I could see in both the face of John, from the images I have seen of him. Mother Mavis said, “My son did not have to die, no one has to die, I never forget him.” John Pat was the eldest of three children to Mavis Pat. His youngest brother, Glen Lee, was 8 years old when 16 year old John Pat was killed. Glenn said, “I was young but I remember, we always remember, we always know. My sister and I, my mother, we cannot forget.” The remembrance was opened by the well-known Nyungar Elder, Reverend Sealin Garlett who said, “Tears that filled Roebourne then, are the tears that have brought us here today.” The Reverend has known the pain of family, friends and community, many times over, who have lost their loved ones in the dank confines of a prison or police cell, and every time I hear him speak, year in year out he hurts more than the year gone, for it is the abyss of despair we look into to know that nothing has changed and that his people die for no good reason. He said, “I believe that our young fellas will make the changes… They are our voice. We cannot be silent, we need to stand up and when we do this our voices will change the destiny of our direction by this so-called liberated government. If we do not do this, if we do not stand up then we will continue to live under the shadows and clouds of their dominion.”

Many of the people who attended this gathering were families thumped with harrowing anguish such as that owned by Mother Mavis and John’s brother Glen. Some families have lost three and four of their loved ones to police- or prison-related deaths in custody. Let us remind ourselves that for every death in custody there are many near deaths in custody and scores of folk maltreated. Sylvia Mornoyarnda said, “This is still a penal colony and for Aboriginal people never has it been more so. I am appalled in the world we live in now in how this world treats Aboriginal people. Aboriginal people are the best at knowing how to live together, how to stand alongside each other. Aboriginal people understand that money does not mean more than love, that the profit of life is in love, in family. Mining exploitation is for the greed of the fancy-pancy. We need independence from racism.”

When John Pat died Harvey Coyne was a young man in prison, at Fremantle Prison, now a museum, and where the memorial for John Pat is held every year. Harvey said, “I was inside here in this prison when news of the death of John Pat came. Our heads went down - we all felt an insecurity in the system and by the forces demanding cultural assimilation. What happened to John we knew more of it would come and it has. I have seen in many, many people around me, in prison and outside prison the mental collapse of my brothers and sisters and how we are punished for this by the very system that makes this happen. 40 years later I would have hoped things would change however they have not, the fear is still there that the system is still letting us down and shutting heavy metal doors on us.”

Alison Fuller said, “I think we have to remember we are a strong people and that we have survived and that we will continue to survive. Blacks will lead the way for Blacks. We are not beggars, let us remember that, and that this is our land. Our wealth is counted in love and not in money.” Rosemary Roe said that her children are suffering at the hands of the criminal justice system and the narrow mindedness of a dull cold set of judgments. Let us remind ourselves that Australia’s prison population, which had doubled in the last two decades, that 26% of it is Aboriginal peoples, yet Aboriginal peoples are less than 3% of the total Australian population. Let us remind ourselves that in the hotbed of Australia’s racism, Western Australia, that 41% of its prison population is Aboriginal peoples. There are 80,000 Aboriginal peoples in Western Australia however 2,000 of them are in Western Australia’s 13 prisons. Once again let us remind ourselves, and let it never leave our thinking, that one in forty Western Australian Aboriginals will spend the night in a cold prison cell, and one in twenty Western Australian Aboriginal males will spend the night in a cold prison. And as sad it is to read let us understand the fact, as I culminate one research effort after another, that the blacker one is in skin colour the higher the rate of prison incarceration, the higher the arrest rates, the higher the deaths in custody rates, and also the higher the homelessness and suicide rates. More than 2,000 Aboriginal children have been removed from their families in Western Australia - that is one in every 40 Aboriginal people in Western Australia are in the care of the State - therefore have the Stolen Generations ended? The blacker one is the more likely they or the communities they come from are being neglected by our Governments and the more likely they have been inter-generationally neglected into the languish of third-world conditions. I am concluding research I've titled "The Aboriginal Clock", and more of this will come for the light of day to challenge.

The cinders and embers of this racism have damaged our psyches and damaged the Australian national identity. If you want to know the identity of a nation, if you want to know its heart and soul, its mind, then day and night look into its prisons and you will know its heart, its soul and its mind. Rosemary Roe said, “My children suffer and I give everything of what I have to help them and it is hard when those, whether they are police or courts don’t know how to help them and only to hurt them.” Rosemary is a first cousin of Rex Bellotti Snr whose son’s story has been highlighted by the through care journalism of The National Indigenous Times. Rosemary said, “Far too many of us are affected, and there are no barriers to gender or age. I was part of the first Death in Custody meeting in WA, in 1988 at Bunbury and here we are 33 years later after that meeting, and that meeting had been brought about by the death of John Pat. In 1997, we had the suicide of an 11 year old Aboriginal child, the youngest ever in the country. This was my first cousin’s child. This tore us up and now he is no longer the youngest suicide. When will it get better?”

Last year, three times over The National Indigenous Times in its Big Read centrepiece during an eight week stretch featured the plight of Rex Bellotti Jnr and the struggle for a sliver of justice. Rex Bellotti Snr and Elizabeth Bellotti, father and mother, were to speak at the John Pat memorial however were not able to attend because they had to be by their son’s side, whose grief at what happened to him in a police-related-incident on March 6, 2009 nearly killed him and has since decimated his life. The cowardly police silence since and their pathetic twist of lies have only served to divide peoples, to enshrine the mistrust and diabolical stereotypes that led to John Pat’s death on September 28 1983. Rex Snr asked Shilo Harrison, coordinator of the Bellotti Support Group, to speak on behalf of the family at the memorial service and Shilo nailed it with, “When someone does wrong you have to own up to it because when you don’t, like the police who nearly killed Rex Jnr, then it becomes an injustice.” When it becomes an injustice it becomes a howling wind, unchecked, tearing down everything in sight, destroying everything that otherwise the common good unfolds.

The remembrance was heavily attended by the Perth based Aboriginal group, HALO, who work to help Aboriginal youth from re-offending, and to date have achieved a 100% record of success. 30 of HALO’s youth and volunteers attended, with some of the HALO dancers performing spiritual dances in memory of John Pat. HALO coordinator, Leanne Smith said, “We are here for John Pat, for his family and for all those inside. People can be helped but most of the public puts it it all in the too hard basket. They see only the statistics. Aboriginal people have the answers to their own issues and we only need to help and support them – HALO has proven this – and that we do it differently from the justice system.” Leanne said, “The travesty is not the high incarceration rates, the travesty is that they don’t need to happen.” Some of HALO’s youth are dancers and some of them danced in memory of John Pat - they performed a number of spirit dances, including the ‘Lost Boy’ and danced away the bad spirit dreams to make way for good spirit dreams.

Western Australia Deaths in Custody Watch Committee chairperson, Marianne Mackay said, “I know that we are sick of it all, it comes with being Aboriginal however we have to stand up so we make the big changes for our people. The Pat family, this is a family that has not got justice, none of our families have ever got it. There is not enough support out there for us to get lawyers and protection.” Marianne lost the father of her eldest son as a death in custody.

The Reverend Sealin Garlett read the ode to John Pat by the late Elder Dr Jack Davis and the gathering sat silent, taking in every word and the landscape each word fills - Mother Mavis with head bowed, brother Glen with shoulders lowered, both staring to the earth – “Write of life, the pious said. Forget the past, the past is dead. But all I see, in front of me, is a concrete floor, a cell door, and John Pat. Agh! Tear out the page, forget his age. Thin skull they cried, that’s why he died! But I can’t forget the silhouette of a concrete floor, a cell door, and John Pat. The end product of Guddia (white man’s) Law is a viaduct, for fang and claw. And a place to dwell, like Roebourne’s hell, of a concrete floor, a cell door, and John Pat.” The Reverend’s crackling voice rose more, and resonated John Pat alive with all of us, “He’s there – Where? There in their minds now, deep within. There to prance, a long sidelong glance, a silly grin, to remind them all, of a Guddia wall, a concrete floor, a cell door, and John Pat.”

- Gerry Georgatos, National Indigenous Times journalist, PhD Law researcher in Australian Custodial Systems & Australian Deaths in Custody, and author of "Climate of Death"



Apparently, the radio station server and feed dried up because of the overload of listeners into the podcast

Gerry Georgatos, Darren Axtell talk with Tiga Bayles 98.9FM

Gerry was on the mark with everything he said - a great interview many more should hear

Darren's story of his brother is sad

Tiga's reference to Tony Abbott 'what a clown' was a classic

Question On Notice No. 8727 asked in the Legislative Assembly on 26 September 2012 by Mr F.M. Logan

Question Directed to the: Minister for Corrective Services
Minister responding: Hon M.J. Cowper
Parliament: 38Session: 1


I refer to the growing number of complaints about the failure to reinstate the Aboriginal Visitor Scheme (AVS), and I ask:
(a)why was the AVS cancelled or not continued with in the first place;
(b)will the Minister reinstate the AVS and if not, why not;
(c)if the AVS is to be reinstated, when will it be fully operational;
(d)what was the total cost of the AVS at the time it was cancelled or not continued with;
(e)what steps have the Department of Corrective Services taken to recruit AVS officers for the Greenough Regional Prison;
(f)if the Department has had difficulties in recruiting AVS staff for the Greenough Prison, what were those difficulties;
(g)with reference to the Minister's statement that other non-Aboriginal programs are adequate when compared with the AVS, what are those programs and why does the Minister deem them adequate when it appears clear they are not suitable for aboriginal prisoners from remote and non-English speaking backgrounds?

Kaya, brother Gerry wrote the best article on what's stuffed about everything and why nothing changes with his true as said "People are not the Property of People - The Northern Territory is a Prison built brick by brick by the Commonwealth" - it says it all

He won the national media award for it - we need to get the pollies to read it, some probably have and that says a lot about them that they are worth little

and this is interview with Tiga Bayles is worth a good listen

Unna, stay strong

If 50 persons per year died under questionable circumstances in police custody the end result would be the same as it is today, bullshit talk of implementing change, lies, cover-ups, and no person held responsible. There is a culture of corruption in all police forces in Australia that goes back as far as far as settlement. The reason it still exists is due to the self interest of Governments who - for various reasons - refuse to tackle it. The Attorney general selects the police Minister(self interest of the party) who selects the police commissioner (self interest of the Minister)who selects the Assistant commissioners (self interest of the Commissioner. Crime Commissions and royal Commissions are again selected by self interest governments and are just another tool in the culture of politicians and police not being held accountable. The foundation of all societies is the justice system, and it is rotting away at the core. Why? Allow me to leave the force with a handsome payout, without being questioned or punished, and ignore selection process to fit me into a $140.000 per year job, and I would consider setting up an Andrew Mallard type for a murder he didn't commit, or torture (bashing/water torture/electric shock to the genitals of suspects, and inserting objects into the anus of suspects - widespread in WA Police stations as found by the WA Kennedy Royal Commission, and for which no one was charged or held accountable - or even named! The other part of the problem is a public who don't give a toss because somehow they think these people deserve to be treated that way, and won't change their attitude until the stench and puss filter into their lounge rooms. THE SELECTION PROCESS FOR ALL ASPECTS OF THE JUSTICE SYSTEM MUST BE TAKEN AWAY FROM THE GOVERNMENT AND HANDED OVER TO THE FULL PARLIAMENT.

Brian Steels is a specialist in restorative justice, we need more of what he says

The restorative and therapeutic prison model delivers a more effective and pro-social system, which satisfies most community concerns with regard to the workings of the complete criminal justice system.

The real newsmedia is sites like Indymedia. We don't learn news like this from the mainstream and commercial television news. Sadly newspapers like the Sydney Morning Herald, the Daily Telegraph, the Herald, the Courier, the West Australian and the Australian give us what the boards and editors decide and not investigative and balanced journalism. The chief, group and sub editors are conservative and compliant and discriminate against good journalists and fair comment. The PM recently attacked internet news as full of nutjobs despite when it suited her previously attacking the Australian. I say there are more real journalists like Gerry Georgatos, Antony Lowenstein and Ben Eltham and more real news and truth on the internet and that most of the nutjobs are in the mainstrean news media with many of them in the the positions of editors abd bureau chiefs and getting ahead because they are trusted compliant servants of boards and certain patrons. I agree with something I have read from Gerry where he wrote the ability to discover the truth is outstripped by the ability to manifest deceit. We wont find the news in the big newspapers.

Serco is in serious trouble in the UK over its record of managing health and hospital services. In Cornwall where it runs an after hours GP service Serco is being investigated for the second time over a series of contract failures. Serco is to be investigated by the UK Audit Commission only months after another investigation by the Quality and Care regulator found that Serco allowed the service to be short of staff, provided inadequate training, left patients facing long waits and manipulated results. Serco has admitted that on 252 occasions it falsified records about the performance of its out-of-hours GP in Cornwall.

Here are links to various stories on the scandal

In New Zealand there is growing controversy over its running of prisons and its failure to meet contractual targets at Mt Eden Prison with calls for Serco to be stripped of its contract.

Here in WA Gerry Georgatos has reported that Serco was fined $600,000 and issued with an improvement notice for consistent performance failure in its running of the prisoner transport contract. Gerry's piece will appear in the National Indigenous Times this week and I have published it on one of my blogs.

I understand the Sunday Times reported the story yesterday. There has been a long history of reports of poor performance by Serco on this contract (on 6PR, the West Australian and Perth Now) all of which were dismissed and denied at the time by Serco and the Government. We now know those reports were all true.

All this indicates a corporate culture built on consistent and regular contract failure, under staffing and poor training as well as deceit and the preparedness to falsify data to keep a contract. It is a corporation with a long record of failing to deliver a safe service and the service it is contracted for. One consequence is a growing list of deaths of people due to Serco's neglect and failure of its duty of care.

Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody – Fact sheet 112

The Royal Commission

On 10 August 1987 Prime Minister Hawke announced the formation of a Royal Commission to investigate the causes of deaths of Aboriginal people while held in State and Territory gaols. The Royal Commission was established in response to a growing public concern that deaths in custody of Aboriginal people were too common and poorly explained. The Letters Patent formally establishing the Commission were issued by the Governor-General on 16 October 1987. Similar Letters Patent were issued by the States and the Northern Territory.

The Commission examined all deaths in custody in each State and Territory which occurred between 1 January 1980 and 31 May 1989, and the actions taken in respect of each death. The Commission's terms of reference enabled it to take account of social, cultural and legal factors which may have had a bearing on the deaths under investigation.

The reports of the Royal Commission

The Royal Commission produced a number of reports, including individual reports for each death investigated. These were presented separately as they were completed. The Commission also produced an Interim Report, which was presented on 21 December 1988. The final report, signed on 15 April 1991, made 339 recommendations, mainly concerned with procedures for persons in custody, liaison with Aboriginal groups, police education and improved accessibility to information. Many of the reports are available on the website of the Australasian Legal Information Institute.

The records

The Commission created or collected about 200 shelf metres of records. These deal with the investigation of individual cases (the ‘case files', which include exhibits and findings), underlying issues, submissions, research material, the records of counsel assisting the Commission and the administrative records.

There is one or more case files for each of the 99 deaths investigated by the Commission. The amount of documentation varies from case to case. Some cases were straightforward and have only a few files, while other cases such as suicides can have thousands of pages of transcripts of investigations by the Commission and thousands of additional pages from the original Coroner's Report and from welfare files, Social Security files and medical records.

After investigating the individual deaths, the Commission tried to find larger social and economic factors to explain Aboriginal deaths in custody. The Commission noted that Aboriginal people had differences from other groups in Australia. For example, it noted a higher rate of alcoholism, gaoling, larger families and lower than average education. This led to an investigation into the wider underlying issues. The records of these investigations include public submissions and hearings, research papers of the Commission's Criminology Research Unit and other specially commissioned historical, social and economic research papers. Many of the underlying issues papers have been published.

Dear sir and madams of the Indigenous Times,

You have been strong in your words for our people in this year where we have seen much division and the crackdown by governments and councils on the embassies, in particular how Brisbane and Perth tent embassies have been hit by government and police and even local councils and the newspapers and television news has been very sad for many of us.

I read the article on deaths in custody by Mr Gerry Georgatos and his story on John Pat was written like never before by anyone ever. Mr Georgatos' Climate of Death story should be read by every high school and university student in this country. They will then begin to know the pain and burden of many of our people. The injustice to John Pat and Mulrunji and to the families Pat and Doomadgee strike us all. Mr Georgatos wrote their story without fear and described each fact for what it was. He called it racism and I speaking for myself thank him for this. His insights into their deaths are the best anyone has ever put to print and I have read just about everything in the last thirty years.

I have been reading the Indigenous Times all year and it has given me heart that a finally a newspaper is speaking up but you are alone but that said I believe in your newspaper and in your journalists. I am proud to see the word Indigenous in the name of a newspaper which writes without fear and without bowing down to those that have made so many other of our organisations do so.

Please convey my sincere respect to Mr Georgatos for his article and for all his journalism but also to all your journalists because they have done themselves and all of us proud.

I notice Mr Georgatos won awards for his journalism this year and he certainly deserves them.

The Indigenous Times is becoming the great hope in the struggle for justice for our people.

Sandy Janguma McConnell

This is heart wrenching

I would like to order the book Climate of Death, how do I do this?

The fact that there has never been any justice speaks for itself


Another death of an Aboriginal man potentially involving police in the
Northern Territory has
sparked calls for an inquiry and urgent action to stop police harassment

Mr E Lewis, a Warlpiri man living in Katherine, passed away shortly after
being released from
police custody on September 23.

Mr Lewis was a diabetic amputee, who was held in custody for more than 24
hours. He died in his
sleep shortly after being released.

Family of Mr Lewis say there are many witnesses alleging he was treated
roughly during his
arrest, which occurred during a large card game in Katherine.

They also say that before his death, Mr Lewis had complained about being
dragged and kicked in
custody, along with being denied food, water and medication.

Mr Lewis' sister Dorris is demanding a coronial inquiry to examine the
circumstances of the death.
She has been unable to find out the cause of death. "We need for there to
a full inquiry into
this death," she said. "It's not enough for the police to be in charge of
the investigation. We feel
only with an inquiry will we see the truth. And we need to see the CCTV
footage from the cell right

"Many witnesses, non-Indigenous people too, have told our family that he
treated very
roughly when he was taken into custody. He was dragged and thrown. They
didn't care that he
only had one leg.

"Before he passed away, my brother was telling his family that he had also
been treated very
roughly in the watch-house. He also said that he had not been fed or given
drink or any
medication. He could hardly sit up when he got home.

"After he had struggled to eat some food he went to sleep and passed away.

"We can't just let this go. We believe that the police must be held
responsible. Unless there is
some justice, they will just keep treating our people like this. The
responsible officers need to be
sacked for how they treated my brother.

"In 2004, we lost another family member from the police. They ran him over
like a dog. All they did
was pay some money and that was forgotten, no police got charged. This
wouldn't happen to a
non-Indigenous person. We need justice to be done for these deaths or it
will keep happening.

"We don't see that the police are here to keep Australia in peace, or keep
our town safe. Some
police are nice and doing a good, real job. But others are going around
dragging and bashing
Aboriginal people and mistreating whether they are drunk or sober. We feel
that they are doing
criminal things themselves but always get away with it. Why can't we all
treat each other with
respect in this country and live as one?"

Patricia Morton-Thomas, spokesperson for the family of Kwementyaye
who died in police
custody in January, has visited the family of Mr Lewis in Katherine. Ms
Morton-Thomas has
pledged to fight to uncover the truth about his death and see that justice
is done.

"This is now the fifth death in suspicious circumstances involving police
corrections staff since
2009 and the body count is unacceptable," Morton-Thomas said. "The
government must do something urgently about the brutality and harassment
that our people are
experiencing at the hands of the police.

"Despite what happened to my nephew, my families consistent calls for
justice and for the police
department to change their ways, they are ignoring us and continuing with
their inhumane
treatment of Aboriginal people.

"We encourage all families who are victims of police brutality to join
us in the call for justice."

[For more information phone Dorris Lewis 0467 044 795, Patricia
Morton-Thomas 0432 612 105.]

Policeman loses appeal against assault conviction
By Carolyn Herbert

Posted Fri Oct 26, 2012 2:09pm AEDT
Policeman's appeal against assault conviction fails Photo: Dismissing
the appeal, Chief Justice Trevor Riley said there was "no explanation
for the offending". (ABC TV)
Map: Alice Springs 0870

A Northern Territory Police officer who was found guilty of assaulting a
man in police custody has had an appeal against his conviction dismissed.

In July, an Alice Springs magistrate heard that Constable Ashley
Burkhart used his arm to hit 28 year-old-Joshua Robertson on the head
while he was in police custody.

The constable argued he was acting in self-defence because he thought Mr
Robertson was going to spit at him or head-butt him.

Magistrate Greg Borchers said Mr Robertson was unable to defend himself
because his arms were restrained behind his back and handcuffed.

Constable Burkhart was convicted and fined $400.

He appealed against the conviction.

In the Supreme Court in Darwin, Chief Justice Trevor Riley agreed with
the ruling of Mr Borchers.

Chief Justice said there was "no explanation for the offending".

The appeal was dismissed and the conviction upheld.