After hearing last Friday’s news, I was left reeling with a frenetic bundle of nerve endings and emotions. When I spoke to Luke, he instantly picked up on it. I told him I needed to write, to ‘do something’ to vent my state of anger and he said to me, “just make sure you write cathartic and not self-destructive”. He was right, because had I written these thoughts down on Friday night, I would have given you pages and pages of disjointed rage and bitterness. That feeling is still present, but I am going to try here for something constructive. Elijah deserves constructive. He deserves something considered, with intent and action.
We find ourselves contemplating the reality that a 14-years old Aboriginal boy was killed by being mown down by a white, male vigilante driver. At the very least it was manslaughter, by anyone’s objective and reasonable definition. Everyone knows that a vehicle is a deadly weapon, we see road death tolls plastered over the television every holidays like some morbid score card. We see the television advertisements about the dangers of drink-driving, or using your mobile phone while driving. We all know the dangers of unsafe driving where the slightest deviation or distraction can be fatal.
The white, male vigilante responsible for the death of Elijah Doughty knew that it was probable he could hit the child he was aggressively pursuing in his large imposing utility truck, and that there was a high probability of occasioning death. But clearly it was not worth enough consideration when a piece of his ‘property’ was – at least in his mind – the higher stake.
Sit with that. An Aboriginal child’s life was of so little consequence in comparison to a minibike.
Perhaps he mistakenly felt exempted from such considerations, and indeed the nature of the law, after allegedly speaking with the local police about his missing bike. Police who, rather than doing their job and following the rule of law as they are generally required to do, allegedly indicated where they thought the bike could be. This enabled the man to take action in his unqualified, subjective and violent manner. To my mind the local police (at best) turned a blind eye to what ensued. At worst they actively encouraged white vigilantism. The likelihood that these police officers will ever be held to account is not even worth entertaining.
While we don’t know for sure the precise details of what transpired, once again the end result informs us that in Australia you may kill an Aboriginal person without too much consequence.
We do know that the version of events provided by the vigilante responsible for killing a Black child was accepted by a jury of his white peers. He was then outrageously acquitted of the charge of manslaughter and found culpable of an even lesser charge that amounts to barely more than a traffic offence, before being sentenced at the mildest end of the scale.
An Aboriginal child’s life is violently, unnecessarily ended, and essentially it amounts to barely a glitch in the perpetrators life. No genuine penalty, that much is a fact. A fact that will stand despite the perpetrator’s extraordinary personal claims of victimhood based on the understandable reactions of the boy’s family and community. This is the cold reality for Aboriginal people in Australia. And a colder reality for Elijah’s family. This is a clear example of racism in its most base and brutal form.
When you trawl through the coverage of this case, and hear from the family of Elijah and see the continued non-Indigenous community’s justification of the actions of a killer – it is difficult to keep a level head. Remaining calm in the face of overwhelming and crippling hopelessness at the thought of a system so hell-bent on the destruction of our people feels near-impossible.
Two hundred and twelve years ago on the 20th July 1805, the invader-settler colony’s judge-advocate, Richard Atkins, referring to whether or not Aboriginal people could be witnesses or criminals before a court, stated that Aboriginal people “are at present incapable of being brought before a criminal court – and that the only mode at present when they deserve it, is to pursue them and inflict such punishment as they merit”.
On 21 July 2017, at the trial of a man who killed a 14-years old child the chief-justice Martin referred to the killer’s culpability as being “in the middle to lower range, but acknowledged the consequences of his actions were severe.”
Over two centuries and Aboriginal people continue to be treated with contempt whether they are the victims, the accused or even the potential jurors. The criminal justice system in Australia is racist from its foundation. It is racist in its structure, racist in its implementation and racist in its accessibility. Every element of it is weighted against our people achieving justice.
How do we find meaning in our actions from now on when the odds are so stacked against us? How do we take constructive action with intent – the intent to smash this racist system while honouring Elijah and all those before him who are victimised by race-based injustice?
Our very existence as Aboriginal people is political – an uncomfortable truth that Australia wants desperately to situate in the distant, forgotten past. We have a cultural responsibility to not let this rest – to not allow hopelessness and destructive thoughts to consume us despite how overwhelming they may be in light of the continued, ongoing deaths and injustices in our communities. We owe it to the mob we have lost to keep fighting.
How do we do this? Turn up. Speak up. Turn up to rallies and marches and sit-ins. Demand change from our politicians by constantly expressing your perspective to federal, state and council members. Contact media outlets and demand content that represents our mobs and more accurately educates those outside our communities. Grow stronger as a community by educating non-Indigenous people so that they are empowered to become a part of the change that is urgently required.
Listen to the elders, celebrate the youth taking up the reigns of political agitation and share the words of Indigenous writers who are making it their mission to reach out and engage to keep this momentum for change going.
Throughout this week there will be – or already has been – rallies around the country to protest the unjust outcome of Elijah’s case. Join the march and take hope from the words of those that organise, agitate and fight. Just don’t stop. Breathe when it gets heavy – but don’t stop.