Bla(c)k lives matter

Hundreds protested against the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders. Photo: Sean Van Der Wielen.

Anti-racism protestors made their voices heard today in the Perth CBD, demanding action three decades on from a landmark report.

Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Forrest Place this afternoon calling for an end to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody and their overrepresentation in the prison system.

Today marks 30 years since the final report of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody was handed down.

It is estimated 470 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in the years since, including five since the start of March.

Connie Moses-Phenny is one of those suffering the consequences.

She lost her son Stanley Inman last year after his pleas for mental health assistance were ignored at Acacia prison.

She says her family have been gutted by the loss.

“When things like this happen, there’s a ripple effect. It’s not just the immediate family, it’s extended family too and his brothers.”

“Over 400 deaths and still no person or institution has been accountable. They’ve just left us to rot really.”

Connie Moses-Phenny and her family lost their son and brother in prison. Photo: Sean Van Der Wielen.

Whadjuk-Ballardong man and public servant Joseph Wallam felt compelled to come to the protest due to the increasing incarceration of Aboriginal women and children.

He sees parallels between his experience as part of the Stolen Generation and the imprisonment of Aboriginal people.

“If we go back to Rottnest (Wadjemup) Island, people who were incarcerated there have never been back to country,” he says.

“We need to stop jailing Aboriginal people, nobody gains from it.”

Joseph Wallam (right) hopes to see real change occur 30 years after the Royal Commission. Photo: Sean Van Der Wielen.

The Royal Commission found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders were not more likely to die in custody than non-Indigenous Australians.

However, the report did conclude they were more likely to be arrested and sent to prison.

Since the commission’s findings have been published, the percentage of Indigenous Australians as a proportion of the prison population has more than doubled from 14 to 29 per cent.

Shadow Indigenous Australians Minister Linda Burney made a surprise appearance at the event.

She says the current situation cannot continue and must stop.

“For the rest of the country they hear statistics, but we hear our brothers and sisters, our mothers and fathers, our sons and daughters, and our wives and our husbands.”

An 2018 review by Deloitte Access Economics found only 64 per cent of the 339 recommendations from the Royal Commission have been fully implemented.

An additional 14 per cent of recommendations have been mostly implemented.

Keynote speaker Robert Eggington is encouraged by today’s turnout. Photo: Sean Van Der Wielen.

Dumbartung Aboriginal Corporation director and keynote speaker Robert Eggington hopes today’s rally is a step in the right direction.

“People are arising to challenge the systemic racism and the oppression that still remains in the institutions and within the social structures of Australia. I think the more they flex that muscle, the more Aboriginal people will react in the way we have done today.”

The Perth rally follows similar protests in other Australian cities on Saturday.

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