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This App Aims to Stop Police Harassment Against Australia's Indigenous Youth

Why Global Citizens Should Care
Leveraging the voice of Indigenous youth is critical in the fight to breakdown systematic racism. Global Citizen campaigns on the Global Goals for Sustainable Development, including on the issues of bigotry, racism, and gender inequality. You can take action on these issues here.

A legal advocacy group has launched the Copwatch smartphone app to allow Aboriginal Australians to record and automatically send mobile footage of police encounters to a secure dropbox, amid accusations of hardline policing and excessive targeting of Indigenous communities.

The Black Lives Matter-inspired technology, developed by human rights law firm the National Justice Project, also allows Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to automatically notify trusted contacts of their location via GPS. The app sits alongside Copwatch workshops that aim to teach participants how to use social media and video footage to safeguard their legal rights.

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"We developed Copwatch as a peaceful method of empowering Aboriginal kids and communities, and as a way of exposing the police misconduct they were being subjected to," the National Justice Project's head solicitor George Newhouse stated. "It puts the information about their rights, and the technology, in their hands."

Newhouse further revealed that police body cameras are generally considered a failure due to the fact that officers have the ability to switch the cameras on and off. Many police officers, he told ten daily, “do not record all their encounters, only the ones that suit them."

The importance and power of filming police encounters has long been known, especially within Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

Last May, William Farmer, an 18-year old Nyoongar man, was intentionally hit by a police car in Perth. Farmer’s relative, Mervyn Eades, was able to film and upload the incident to Facebook. The video then went viral, spurring an investigation by the Western Australia Police Force and ultimately leading to the suspension of the officer behind the wheel. 

"We know the brutality,” Eades told the New York Times. “We have been living and breathing it every day. But if it’s not on camera it never happened, our boys and girls are ‘making it up.’ It is the legacy of the white man’s legal system, but vision, a picture — it’s worth 1,000 words.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people represent just 2.8% of Australia’s 24 million population. Yet, as of June 2017, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reports Indigenous people account for 27% of total prisoner numbers. Even more shocking, Indigenous youth are 24 times as likely to be in detention than non-Indigenous children. In June, it was reported that every single child held in detention in the Northern Territory is Indigenous.

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In 2016, The Royal Commission into the Protection and Detention of Children in the Northern Territory was established to extensively analyse the treatment of children detained in Northern Territory Government facilities. The Commission was proposed in the aftermath of a report by ABC program Four Corners in which video footage from detention facilities showcased heinous misconduct against young Aboriginal detainees.

The royal commission report, released in November 2017, exposed "shocking and systematic failures" by police against Indigenous children.