Australia Records 4 ‘Devastating’ Aboriginal Deaths in Police Custody in 3 Weeks
The deaths have been labelled a “huge red flag.”
Editor's note: This story contains the name and image of a deceased Indigenous person.
A fourth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person has died in custody in a little over a fortnight, a fact that has been labelled a “huge red flag” for Australia’s police and corrections systems and ignited outrage by activists across the country.
"Loved brother, nephew, son and uncle” Anzac Sullivan died after a pursuit by police in Broken Hill on March 18, according to a recent statement by the Aboriginal Legal Service of NSW and the ACT (ALS). The Barkindji man’s death follows two others who died in New South Wales, and one in Victoria, since March 2.
"It is alleged the 37-year-old man ran from police. A short time later, patrolling officers were alerted to a male suffering a medical episode nearby,” a police spokesperson said, according to the Guardian. “Police commenced CPR on the man before he was taken to Broken Hill Hospital and declared deceased.”
According to police, a team from the Central North Police District will investigate the case.
That investigation will then be “subject to an independent review.”
We are very sorry to share the tragic news that another Aboriginal person has died in custody. Barkindji man Anzac Sullivan, 37, passed away during a police pursuit in Broken Hill last Thursday. Our thoughts are with his family at this devastating time. https://t.co/RMiqZUdQST— Aboriginal Legal Service (@ALS_NSWACT) March 24, 2021
Principal Solicitor at ALS Sarah Crellin said the news was devastating.
"Any death in custody is an absolute tragedy, and our hearts go out to the Sullivan family and their community," she said in a statement. "For four deaths to occur in the space of little over a fortnight is a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong with police and corrections systems in Australia.”
Systemic racism and existing inequalities like family violence and unemployment have a strong influence on Indigenous deaths in custody.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are over-policed, often unable to secure bail due to a lack of legal support and neglected by prison officers due to unconscious bias, according to First Nations-led not-for-profit Common Ground.
April 15 will mark 30 years since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody concluded.
The commission, designed to investigate the frequency and cause of Indigenous deaths in jails across the country, handed down 339 recommendations in its final report.
According to ALS, many of the recommendations — which include topics such as economic opportunity, education and strategies around drug and alcohol — have not been implemented.
"500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the Royal Commission that was meant to put a stop to these deaths. As we approach the 30th anniversary, it’s unfathomable that more lives are being taken, with no sign of meaningful action from governments,” Crellin said.
Not a single individual has been held accountable for any of the 500 deaths.
Crellin has called for an independent investigation into police actions in the hours before and after Sullivan's death.
Greens senator and Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman Lidia Thorpe has echoed Crellin’s outrage and joined a chorus of voices to condemn NSW authorities for failing to come forward publically with news of two of the deaths.
"As First Nations people, we are sad — and we are angry beyond words. Why does this system continue to kill us off? We know that was the intent from the beginning of the colonial invasion — is this part of the same genocidal agenda?” she said in a statement. “Why should our people keep dying in places where they’re meant to be kept safe? The system is deeply racist.”