An indigenous advocate claims police abuse of Aboriginal people is “alive and well,” despite WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson pledging to improve the treatment of Aboriginal people.
Aboriginal Deaths in Custody Chairman Mervyn Eades said young indigenous Australians were still running from police, as Mr Dawson apologised for the police’s historical and ongoing mistreatment of Aboriginal people as part of WA Police’s NAIDOC Week commemorations.
“It hasn’t, not especially in Noongar country,” Mr Eades said about the lack of change in police attitudes towards indigenous people
He contradicted a story Mr Dawson told in a speech that Aboriginal elders told him “Aboriginal children are now running towards police as their friend and protector, rather than running away.”
“They run, as soon as they see the police, the first opportunity they get, many of our boys and girls, they do run.”
Mr Eades said the negative attitudes towards indigenous people had developed over history.
“All the wrongs committed against our people, it goes right back to all the deaths in custody where police are wrongfully and in many cases brutally caused the death of many of our people,” he said.
He claimed racism and mistreatment was a “systemic” culture that had been “embedded in the WA Police forces had been very strong for a very long time in Western Australia.
Despite his claims, Mr Eades said he was happy that Mr Dawson had apologised.
“I took the apology as surprising but in saying surprising, well appreciated, very well appreciated by the first nation’s communities,” he said.
“It’s very significant that he has done this here and it is moving forward.”
“Sorry to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples”: Dawson
In a speech during WA Police NAIDOC Week commemorations on Thursday, Mr Dawson called for an end to racism and bias towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
Mr Dawson made his apology for “immeasurable pain and suffering” caused to them, stating police “played a significant role” that contributed to indigenous “traumatic history”.
“On behalf of the Western Australia Police Force, I would like to say sorry to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for our participation in past wrongful actions,” Mr Dawson said.
He believed history had played a big part in the poor relationship Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders had with police.
“I accept that previous laws, practices and policies deeply affected the lives of Aboriginal people, and that police involvement in historical events has led mistrust in law enforcement and the damaging of our relationship.”
He said past wrongs could be repaired.
“We can make amends and ensure mistakes are not repeated.”
Youth Key to Race Relation Improvements
Mr Dawson said increasing the number of young indigenous police officers were an important part to improving the relationship with young indigenous Australians.
“Our initiative to improve is our Aboriginal Cadet Program which began in 2016,” he said.
“The innate cultural understanding of these constables will help bridge a gap between Aboriginal people and the justice system and this will no doubt be life changing for the community.”
Mr Eades said young cadets needed to be trained in cultural indigenous awareness.
“It needs to start with the young police coming through the cadet system of the police force,” he said.
“(It’s) having a part of their programs, part of their programs or part of their training and that to have our elders involved and tell them the cultural awareness and tell them about the demographic of people that they will be working with when they talk about first nations people.”
However, he said the culture of racism and abuse needs to be removed from the police force.
“They need to filter out rogue police officers within the department,” Mr Eades said.
“Hold the rogue officers accountable and then the apology will have some sort of truth about it.”