A dozen police officers were injured and several arrests were made after a huge crowd of people threw rocks and glass bottles at police officers when a protest over the death of an Aboriginal boy turned violent in Australia.
More than 300 protesters gathered outside the courthouse Tuesday in Kalgoorlie, Australia, ahead of a 55-year-old man who was due in court for the manslaughter of 14-year-old Elijah Doughty.
Doughty was reportedly riding a stolen motorbike, which is said to be linked to the accused man, before the man’s utility truck slammed into him and mortally wounded him. He was found dead in bushland when police came to the scene after reports of an accident.
The boy was the grandson of a prominent Aboriginal community member and there have been speculations about how he died. The accused man has been charged with manslaughter, yet the circumstances have not been made clear. Some people are also claiming the bike in question was Doughty’s own.
However, many community members believe the death was racially motivated. Kalgoorlie community leaders have called for peace but have raised concerns about vicious comments on social media against indigenous groups.
Senior community member and Aboriginal elder, Bruce Smith, said the death of Doughty and the subsequent riot didn't just shake up Kalgoorlie, but its impact was felt throughout Australia.
He called the police to tackle the racial tension that has simmered over onto social media where Aboriginal people were being threatened with physical harm.
“This has been brewing over years in the Kalgoorlie region,” he said.
"Those are the ones that are going to continue brewing those attitudes we don't want to see, and it's all coming out on social media, on Facebook,” said Smith. “Our Indigenous people living in Kalgoorlie and Boulder, ... they have been living here for a long, long time, and they are part of this community, whether other people like it or not.”
"These blokes have been trying to run Indigenous kids down for a while now and nothing's been done.."https://t.co/8y7OpCMZHM— News Talk 6PR 882 (@6PR) August 31, 2016
Two questions stand out to me over Elijah Doughty's death: why was the charge manslaughter? How can the incident be described as a 'crash'?— Natasha Robinson (@NC_Robinson) August 30, 2016
The feeling of powerlessness in the Aboriginal community coupled with the relative leniency of the charge against Doughty’s alleged killer sparked the riot.
Acting Commander Darryl Gaunt said hate speech in social media may have also contributed to the violence. He said the comments on Facebook were “disgusting and racist,” yet undermined the role of racism in the teenager’s death.
“There is nothing to suggest at all that it's a racist issue. It's the death of a child who happens to be Aboriginal,” he said.
However, if anyone knows anything about the history of Aboriginal deaths in the country, then they can understand the reaction of the Kalgoorlie protesters.
Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley, the most senior cop in Palm Island, Queensland, in 2004, viciously beat an Aboriginal man to death on the floor of a police cell. Doomadgee was arrested for being a public nuisance and drunk after he walked past Hurley while singing “Who Let the Dogs Out.” An hour later, his cold body was found in the cell with several broken ribs, ruptured spleen and his liver almost cleaved in two — the sort of injuries you find in a plane crash victim, according to a pathologist who conducted his post-mortem.
Residents accused Hurley of murder but he was acquitted of manslaughter in 2007 by an all-white jury.
In another incident, a 16-year-old boy, John Pat, was beaten to death in Roebourne, Australia, by five cops in 1983 and they, like Hurley, also faced charges of manslaughter. And they, also like Hurley, were acquitted and quickly resumed their active duties.
With such a precedent, all eyes are now on the criminal justice system and are awaiting its response to Doughty’s death.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Maksim Lisov