The question that many are asking is, ‘why do Black Lives Matter when all lives matter’? No one is arguing against the idea that all lives matter but at this time in history, with the recent death of George Floyd in the US – highlighting yet again the injustices toward black people that happen on a daily basis – people from all Indigenous cultures and ethnic backgrounds are feeling the pain of this man’s family, his community and his country and the global ache of yet more racism.
Australian deaths in custody
Local Indigenous woman Delta Kay said that George Floyd’s death triggers Aboriginal people about Australian deaths in custody. ‘We understand black Americans’ grief and shock. This is then compounded by a burning outrage as government and high ranking police officials cover the deaths in custody with lies.
‘Of course we are outraged here in Australia with over 432 Aboriginal deaths in police custody or prison custody since 1991, with no convictions for the murderers.’
The Bunyarra Culture Collective
Ms Kay is part of a local Aboriginal group called the Bunyarra Culture Collective – this group is hosting a peaceful vigil this Saturday in solidarity with Aboriginal people who have lost their lives in police custody. Bunyarra members wanted to stand together with their Aboriginal brothers and sister across the country at this pivotal time in world history.
‘Sadly Australians are racists. We cannot point our finger at Americans when so many Australians are guilty of racism – you can see throughout the media comments, I believe our Government breeds racism to keep minority Australians down.
‘Non Aboriginal people are asking me what can they do? Easy – learn about the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
The Uluru Statement from the Heart
‘By all Australians supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, a document that outlines a path forward for recognising Aboriginal Australians in the national constitution, you are showing that you believe Aboriginal people have a valid voice in the laws and policies that are made.
‘As a nation we need to bring the Statement from the Heart back to the table if we want to have systematic change and justice for Australia’s First Peoples.
‘This four day agreement-making and truth-telling between government and Aboriginal Elders was held in May 2017 and our Government turned their back on it.’
Apathy towards Aboriginal Australians
Belle Budden is a member of the Bunyarra Collective. She says many Indigenous people were distressed by the events in the community, and more so at Australian’s outrage and support for the Black Lives Matter campaign in America, and apparent apathy when an Aboriginal person in Australia dies in police custody.
‘Bunyarra want to create a platform for our community members who have been triggered by these events to tell their stories of police brutality and deaths in custody so we can start the process of truth, justice and healing towards true Reconciliation,’ said Ms Budden. ‘The scenes we are seeing in the United States, and the clear message from their leader that property is more important than black lives has triggered many of our people. The event on Saturday is about telling this story so our people do not need to live with memories refreshed.’
Local Area Command Aboriginal Police Liaison Officers
Ms Budden says that in the Byron Shire, Bunyarra members maintain a positive and productive relationship with the Local Area Command. ‘There have been excellent Aboriginal Police Liaison Officers who have worked hard to build meaningful relationships and programs for our people. Each year they run the Tweed Byron Police Commanders Active Citizen Program and engage local Bundjalung woman, and Bunyarra Director Delta Kay as a mentor.
‘This is one of very few programs that actively targets our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander young people and we acknowledge and commend them for their ongoing commitment. The Local Area Command were the first to contact Bunyarra and offer support to ensure that our message for the vigil is not hijacked.’
The Byron Shire community has criminalised Aboriginal people
Ms Budden say that it is the Byron Shire community and its economics that has criminalised Aboriginal people. ‘Affordability, cultural visibility and place here in community had huge impacts on our people.
‘Our cultural practices, outdoor, on country have been over-regulated, prohibited and criminalised. Being forced into over-crowded corners of the shire where there is no central place for us to practice our culture in ways that are good for our wellbeing has forced Bundjalung people out of the community and off their own country.
‘Byron Shire’s increasing privilege has left us locked out of this community and the discomfort and fear caused by our presence causes people to use the police to enforce their own prejudice.’
There is no treaty between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and the Commonwealth, and in Australia, black deaths in custody represent the ongoing genocide of First Nations people.
Aboriginal Australians the most incarcerated on the planet
‘Our people are the most incarcerated per capita on the planet,’ says Ms Budden. ‘This is largely a result of the poverty and racism experienced by our people. As a nation we need to accept that there is indeed much racism ingrained in Australian culture and psyche, and move towards a process of reconciliation that allows for truth, justice and healing.’
‘Locally our people need to have a meaningful place in this community that acknowledges the socio-economic injustices from the past, which addresses our struggle as well as celebrating our culture. Our people have so little in this community yet the Bundjalung of Byron Bay have, through years of struggle and hard work, wrapped this community in National Parks to protect country, which many businesses have capitalised upon.
‘We as a community, with true respect for First Nations People and real reconciliation, could lead the nation towards a better future – starting by standing together to say Black Lives Matter.’
The rally and COVID-19
Ms Kay says that there are some people in the Byron community who are condemning her for organizing this peaceful rally because of COVID-19. ‘The government has opened Byron up for visitors and we are told that hygiene is our responsibility, so our rally will have Harmony Keepers and local police reminding people to observe the social distancing rules.
‘We feel strongly that we must rally in support now while this issue is in the world spotlight as Australians won’t care in six months time.’
Ms Kay makes a heartfelt plea to the community. ‘Byron, please don’t turn a blind eye to Aboriginal people dying in police custody, have a say and read the Statement from the Heart for a stronger and united future for our children.’
A rally in Lismore on Saturday
The Lismore community is also having a rally – their Facebook event page says that they are protesting in solidarity on Widjabul Wybal soil with the uprising in the USA and against the murder of Aboriginal people – Black Deaths in Custody.
They are calling on elders, brothers and sisters to join the rally and protest, sharing this pain together, standing in unity and solidarity.
‘When we gather, let’s all bend our knee and raise our fists in silence for the loss of all our black brothers and sisters murdered.
The Byron Bay rally and march will begin at 2pm at the Rec Grounds in Marvel Street, Byron Bay.