Australia still anticipates racism

Uluru — a monumental, cathedral-like rock standing alone in the western deserts of central Australia — seems an unlikely place to contemplate the scourge of anti-Black American violence that taints US body politics today. But understanding the aftermath of a distant event in 1934 is a powerful reminder that the fight to make black lives matter and the violence of white supremacists transcends national borders.

In June 1931 Constable Bill McKinnon arrived in Alice Springs to take up his post as a police officer in central Australia. He was barely thirty – slim, bold and tough – a sober storyteller with a sharp tongue and unyielding determination.

After prosecuting six Aboriginal men for killing an Aboriginal man under tribal law in 1934, he cornered a man in a cave and shot him dead at Uluru. a place that has long been sacred to the Anangu, their traditional owners, and is now of spiritual importance to the entire nation.

1935, An Australian government inquiry that exhumed the man’s body and eventually returned his remains to Adelaide found the murder to be “ethically unjustified” but “legally justified”. Notably, McKinnon claimed he fired his pistol into the cave in “self-defense.” Now, almost 100 years later – after the discovery of new evidence proving he lied to the inquiry – the murder of a defenseless Aboriginal man in the heart of Australia underscores the deep-rooted inequalities in societies built on violence and oppression.

There’s a reason so many Aboriginal people identified with George Floyd. Indigenous Australians – jailed 12 times more often than white Australians – continue to see themselves as victims of state-sanctioned violence, often involving the police.

Today, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people make up 3.2 per cent of Australia’s total population, but they make up nearly 30 per cent of the country’s prison inmates. They are almost six times more likely to die in custody than other Australians. Nationally, their suicide rates are more than double those of other Australians. Crucial social indicators such as life expectancy, health, housing, education and employment – many of them insensitive to successive governments’ policies to “close the gap” – continue to illustrate the alarming disparities between Indigenous people and other Australians. Despite the 1991 Royal Commission’s recommendations on tribal deaths in custody (a large number of which have yet to be implemented), more than 500 tribal people have died in custody since the commission’s report was delivered.

Given the violent history of Australian colonization – Aboriginal lands taken without deal, consent or compensation – and the protracted struggle for equality and justice, it is not surprising that First Nations people view the police with deep fear and distrust. For over 150 years, the police and their persecutors (both black and white) were responsible for many of the massacres of Aboriginal people. It was governments and their police, often turning a blind eye to vigilante groups, that “cleansed” the land of its rightful owners. It was the police who took children from their families and facilitated their “re-education” in government and religious institutions. And it was the police who represented the brutal imposition of the Whitefella Act on Native American laws and cultures. Not a police officer despite numerous investigations and inquiries over the years ever convicted of murdering an aborigine.

In 2019, in Yuendumu, an Aboriginal community in central Australia, Aboriginal teenager Kumanjayi Walker died after being shot dead three times by Police Constable Zachary Rolfe. In a disturbing echo of the events at Uluru in 1934, Rolfe claimed he acted in self-defense when Walker resisted arrest and attacked him with scissors. In March this year, an all-white jury found Rolfe not guilty of Walker’s murder, a decision that sparked a wave of grief and anger in Yuendumu and Aboriginal communities across the country.

Local elders begged the police to consult them and respect their law before entering their homes. They also asked them not to bring their guns into the church. If racial profiling and unnecessary deaths are to be avoided, policing must be carried out in cooperation with community elders and without firearms.

For many Aboriginal people in Yuendumu, the memory of the Coniston massacre in 1928, a spate of indiscriminate killings spearheaded by Constable George Murray (one of Bill McKinnon’s colleagues), was still vivid. Similar stories of profound fractures and horrors can be found across Australia.

In 2016, esteemed Yolngu elder and respected indigenous leader Galarrwuy Yunupingu recalled how his father Mungurrawuy was present “when the massacres took place [East Arnhem Land] in the 1920s and 1930s.” He was also “shot by a man entitled to do so.” “These events and what’s behind them are burned into our minds,” he explained. “You will never be forgotten. You remember things like that. Like the scar that marked the bullet’s exit from my father’s body.” These scars – memories of forced displacement, murder, border warfare, resistance and survival – are etched in the bloodlines of Australia’s historical imagination.

Both America and Australia struggle with white supremacy at its roots and the challenge of acknowledging the fundamental truth at the heart of their history – the racism and violence embedded in the founding of both the American Republic and the Australian Commonwealth. But to understand this common struggle, both similarities and differences between the two countries must be recognized. In the United States today, it would be unthinkable for a white police officer accused of murdering a black man to be tried by an all-white jury. But that is exactly what happened in Australia.

Even the frequently made point that the US can learn from Australia’s gun laws needs to be tempered by the glaring differences between the two nations. After a lone gunman killed 35 in Port Arthur, Tasmania in 1996, Conservative Prime Minister John Howard acted decisively to ban automatic and semi-automatic weapons and restrict firearm ownership. Howard was able to do this quickly and effectively because firearm ownership in Australia is not tied to individual, community and political identities in the same way as it is in the US. Australia has no constitutional right to “arms bearer” nor do many of its citizens believe that owning a gun is necessary to protect their liberty and security?

Some of the strongest parallels between the two countries lie in the treatment of First Nations people. Like Native Americans, Indigenous Australians suffered from the dispossession of their land. They were massacred and “scattered” on the barrel of a gun. They were denied the wealth that had come from the white establishment’s appropriation of their land. Long denied citizenship in their own countries, they fought harmful racial hierarchies and oppressive laws while still creatively adapting and ensuring the survival of their cultures. Although treaties ostensibly gave Native Americans the status of nations and sovereign governments, they were often little more than a legitimizing means of territory acquisition by colonizers or part of a strategy to fend off rival European powers. However, Indigenous Australians have no established history of contract making to draw on. More than 230 years after the first wave of British invasions began in 1788, they are still waiting for their sovereignty as Aboriginal peoples to be recognised.

Today, both countries stubbornly cling to creation myths of innocence and virtue. Australia has struggled to dispel the myth of peaceful British settlement – the notion that the land was simply ‘taken’ by settlers, without fierce First Nations opposition. For many Australians, ‘war’ is something that happened abroad. In 2003 Prime Minister John Howard said before Victoria’s Supreme Court Australia had “formed a nation without strife or war”, as if the border wars were just a “blemish” in an otherwise heroic narrative of expanding democracy and material prosperity.

In 2022, Australia is approaching a coming to terms with its history; one that is finally beginning to address the structural inequalities that are a direct result of white supremacy and colonization. When the Australian colonies united under the British Crown in 1901, they did so without dealing with Indigenous Australians, a people they believed were doomed to extinction. With the election of a new Labor government led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the country will soon hold a national referendum to seek approval for an Indigenous vote in Parliament, “a constitutional body allowing Aboriginal and Torres Islander people to vote.” Strait to give advice to Parliament on policies and projects that affect their lives.”

The idea of ​​the Voice came after a long process of consultation between Aboriginal communities across the country, culminating in a 2017 meeting of Indigenous Australians at Uluru. “The Uluru Statement from the Heart” — an eloquent, almost constitutional amalgamation of poetics and pragmatics — called not only for a “constitutional voice of First Nations,” but also for the establishment of a “Makarrata Commission” that will do so monitor the conclusion of contracts and the establishment of the truth.

Recently, the South Australian Museum asked the Central Land Council, which represents the Traditional Owners of Central Australia, to consult with the relevant Traditional Owners and families involved in the events of 1934. When that process is complete, a small but significant step in the truth-telling will take place when the remains of the Aboriginal man shot by Bill McKinnon are finally returned to Uluru. His name was “Yukun” (aka “Yokununna”) – “Desert Oak #1” – and his homecoming promises to highlight the urgency and rightness of the upcoming referendum.

Adapted from RETURN TO ULURU: The Hidden Story of a Murder in the Australian Outback by Mark McKenna with permission from Dutton, an imprint of Penguin Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2022 Mark McKenna.

In 2022, Australia is approaching a coming to terms with its history; one that is finally beginning to address the structural inequalities that are a direct result of white supremacy and colonization. When the Australian colonies united under the British Crown in 1901, they did so without dealing with Indigenous Australians, a people they believed were doomed to extinction. With the election of a new Labor government led by Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the country will soon hold a national referendum to seek approval for an Indigenous vote in Parliament, “a constitutional body allowing Aboriginal and Torres Islander people to vote.” Strait to give advice to Parliament on policies and projects that affect their lives.”

https://www.thedailybeast.com/the-darkness-down-under-australia-still-reckons-with-racism?source=articles&via=rss Australia still anticipates racism

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