On Monday night, as Western Australians enjoyed what remained of the WA Day public holiday, a group of Nyungars gathered in Forrest Place with other People of Colour and more than a thousand supporters.
Chants of ‘Black Lives Matter’ echoed through the otherwise quiet Perth streets.
Perth people came out in strong numbers, appalled at the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer – a new horrific example of the repeated mistreatment and killing of People of Colour in the United States.
But this was not just a protest against a distant injustice, this also felt a lot closer to home. For the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people present, this was not just an act of solidarity. The demand that Black lives be counted as equal is a raw nerve still exposed.
Under the bright pink electronic billboard promoting Reconciliation Week (which finishes today on 3 June), the statistics of how many First Nations People have died in custody in Australia were waved on cardboard signs and the rates of incarceration were shouted at the night.
Australia’s record does not just mirror that of the US, it shamefully exceeds it.
432 Aboriginal people have died in custody, more than one every month for the last 28 years. That is 432 people since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which was established to address the issue.
29% of the total adult prisoner population across Australia are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander – despite making up only about 3% of the general population.
In WA, the statistics are even worse.
According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics, Western Australia has the highest rate of adult Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population at 4 089 persons per 100 000, compared to all other states and territories.
WA also has the highest rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth in detention at 78%.
Then there are the individual stories that are all too close to that of George Floyd. John Pat, Joyce Clark, Mr Ward, Ms Dhu… the list is long. And painful.
It is a cycle of trauma that continues to turn, from the beginnings of colonisation, through various racist Government policies including the Stolen Generations, to today’s injustices.
It is also a long story of resilience and resistance. On Monday night, People of Colour led the event and First Nations people continue to rise with strength for a better way for their children. We encourage you to look at how you could support their efforts through organisations like:
There is also some great reading material written by People of Colour to educate yourself here.
As we’ve just celebrated WA Day, maybe it is a perfect time to reflect on what it means to be Western Australian when you are Aboriginal or a Person of Colour and what each of us can do to make sure that Western Australian Black Lives Matter.