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Wednesday, 22 October 2014

Protestors Gather To Express Outrage Over Death Of Ms Dhu |

Protestors Gather To Express Outrage Over Death Of Ms Dhu |

Protestors Gather To Express Outrage Over Death Of Ms Dhu

By Amy McQuire

How could a 22-year-old Aboriginal woman die in custody? It doesn’t happen in non-Indigenous Australia, writes Amy McQuire.

a national day of action, protestors across the country today will call
for an independent inquiry into the death of Ms Dhu, a 22-year-old
Aboriginal woman who passed away behind bars after being refused
hospital care twice while in excruciating pain.

Ms Dhu, whose first name can’t be published for cultural reasons died
on August 4 this year in a South Hedland watchhouse in Western
Australia, three days after she was arrested.

Much has been made about the reason behind Ms Dhu’s incarceration –
she was locked up for failing to pay an estimated $1,000 in parking
fines. The initial autopsy listed her cause of death as inconclusive.

She was taken to Hedland Health Campus twice where she was deemed fit
to be sent back to custody, despite complaining of acute pain, fever
and paralysis, which could have stemmed from a suspected leg infection.

The Australian has reported on two witnesses, one Ms Dhu’s partner
Dion Ruffen, who allege Ms Dhu cried for three days in pain, begging to
be hospitalised but was ignored.

She reportedly never saw a doctor.

According to her grandmother Coral Roe she “had broken ribs, bleeding on the lungs and was in excruciating pain”.

The rallies, to be held across the country (Hedland, Perth,
Geraldton, Canberra, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Brisbane) will call
on an immediate coronial inquiry into her death, a second Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and a Custody Notification
Service to be installed in Western Australia.

A Custody Notification Service was a recommendation of the Royal
Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, and is only operating in
New South Wales. But the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT had to fight
tooth and nail to save it last year after the Commonwealth withdrew

Ms Dhu’s case has angered many across the nation, with a petition to
WA Premier Colin Barnett calling for an independent inquiry signed by
over 40,000 people on

But above all these issues, the first conversation we have to have is
about institutionalised racism, and how it led to the death of Ms Dhu,
the latest victim to a system that locks up Aboriginal people at the
highest rates in the world.

This matters because ultimately this isn’t a story about parking
fines, it is about the intersection of Ms Dhu’s race, gender and
geography, and the racism underlying the troubling reality that
Aboriginal women are the fastest growing incarcerated group in the

There are many questions left hanging, and Ms Dhu’s family are struggling for answers.

Death in Custody Watch WA’s Marc Newhouse told New Matilda there was a
failure in informing Ms Dhu’s family about the circumstances behind her
arrest and around her death.

“It’s part of the problem. There’s been poor communication between
the Coroner’s office, the police and the Department of Corrections. The
family doesn’t have any information. But they’ve got all these
questions,” he told New Matilda.

The Barnett government has knocked back calls for an independent
inquiry into Ms Dhu’s death, and instead seems to be relying on the
coronial inquiry, according to Death in Custody Watch WA.

“There still has been no independent inquiry into her death. The
government refuses to step in. There’s been no commitment to fix the
system that led to her preventable death. Nothing,” Ms Dhu’s grandmother
Coral Roe said.

The Coroner was awaiting the internal police report before commencing
the inquest, which has been handed in according to the Guardian.

“That’s how every death in custody has been investigated since the
royal commission and we’ve going on about it – you need to have an
independent authority, separate from the police to do that,” Mr Newhouse

Mr Newhouse says the whole system is responsible for the deaths in
custody of Aboriginal people, more than two decades following the Royal

“There’s clearly a culture within police services across the country
of treating Aboriginal people as second-class citizens, not taking them
seriously, whether they be victims of crime, or someone who is being
questioned. And then you’ve got these layers of laws and policies that
people claim apply to everyone, but in fact, they disproportionately
impact on Aboriginal people,” Mr Newhouse told New Matilda.

It wouldn’t happen to a non-Aboriginal woman.

*The petition can be found here.

** The protests will begin at 12 pm across the nation. Please see here.


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