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Racist laws breed racist actions 27-9-12

Media Release                                                     STICS                                                    27 September 2012


Racist laws breed racist actions

Press release from STICS in response to Coroner’s report about the Death in Custody of Kwementyaye Briscoe


Paddy Gibson from the Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney said: "Racist laws breed racist actions. Stronger Futures is a brutal piece of legislation that will exacerbate the deep social crises in NT Aboriginal communities…”

Kwementyaye Briscoe died alone in a cell in the Alice Springs Watch House. He was a victim of the Intervention and racism. The intervention has removed hope from the communities and encouraging youth and young adults to move into Alice Springs. There are no jobs, but there is alcohol to while away the time. As a black person, he cannot have a quiet drink at home – he lived in a hostel (they are dry), the pubs do not welcome blacks so young people are forced to drink in public places. This makes them very vulnerable to police attention and harrassment. This can easily be seen by the number of incarceration (31) by the police of this young man. This policy of locking up young drunks will not resolve these deep causes of the abuse of alcohol by young people both black and white.

An inquest heard 27-year-old Kwementyaye Briscoe was taken into “protective custody” and not charged with a crime. Yet, while in police “care” he managed to drink half a 700ml bottle of Bourbon that has been smuggled into the van/watch house. He had hit his head when being incarcerated, and again when manhandling in the station. He was dragged along the floor to cell 9. He was thrown on the floor of the cell and left to die. This is not protection. This is abuse. This is manslaughter.

Alice Springs has a “Sobering-Up Shelter”. There is no reason given by the coroner why this place was not used on the night. The coroner should have recommended that this program be extended. Briscoe needed somewhere safe to “sleep it off” – Police stations are not safe places in spite of the large numbers of staff, the procedures in place, the cameras, the alarm bells, etc. All introduced to prevent deaths in custody. These do not work if racist policies and police force attitudes are not challenged and changed.

When will someone be charged with assault or manslaughter over the death of Kwementyaye Briscoe? The Northern Territory coroner has found the death of an Aboriginal man in custody was due to a lack of care by police and could have been prevented. The coroner said, “The care provided by police was completely inadequate…” The response from the police is to promise the better safety procedures (as recommended by the coroner) will be introduced to the watch house. Society was promised these issues would be corrected time and time again. Think of the Black Deaths in Custody Commission. Think of the death of Credric Trigger, just two year earlier in the same watch house, dragged by the same police force, and dying in an almost identical manner.

The coroner said that not one police force member on duty during the two shifts followed correct procedure. If members of police force cause a death because of neglect and laziness, they should be charged with the crime and not be protected by their uniform.

Hilary Tyler, a friend of the family who attended the coronial enquiry, agrees, stating that “The recommendations are a farce, and do not address the systemic issues. The NT Police needs to take ownership of this, and Constable Evans should lose his job.”

As Patricia Morton-Thomas, aunty of Mr Briscoe said:

"The Police force are responsible for upholding the law, wearing a badge should not give immunity from the law. The Police need to lay charges on their members where it is clear they have broken the law. In my nephew’s case, he was clearly assaulted by Constable Evans. They need to be punished for breaking the law like everyone else….. My nephew was a victim of the NT Intervention. Our culture is treated as worthless and our lives are treated as worthless. Alice Springs has become a police state for Aboriginal people."

In this case, one of the many coroners’ recommendations (as had the Black Death in Custody Commission 20 years earlier) is that the police have a nurse to assist in the watch house. This is now happening in a very limited way. But how long will this last? When will the funding be cut? One of the few recommendations by the Black Death in Custody commission taken up was 24/7 telephone contact with the Aboriginal legal service. Presently, that is being threated with closure because of funding cuts. Society does not have the will to deal with this shameful state of Aboriginal incarceration.

None of these measures are directed at the underlying causes of the problems. Until this nation permits Aboriginal people full equality and respect, control of their land, and their lives, racist incidents like this sad death will continue to happen.

The Intervention, extended as “Stronger Futures” has removed opportunities for Aboriginal people. It has increased the police force and its power. Therefore, there are more arrests. More police does not mean more justice, and does not make life safer for Aboriginal people. There must be a change of policy. Aboriginal people should be able to control their own destiny.

STICS – Stop the Intervention Collective Sydney

Contact; Emily Bullock 0432105438