I was a police officer for ten years. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but no amount of Black police officers will make things better in so called Australia. With renewed interest in fighting racialised police brutality, one solution espoused is that we need more Black cops. Black people are a rare commodity in the police and emergency services, but there is a reason for this; institutional racism. Racism is rife within the mostly white and male dominated institutions, and anybody who says that it’s not, is a liar or just plain ignorant. History will show you that this is not a new concept. From the days of invasion, Native Police were formed by the colonisers to round up and capture Aboriginals for punitive purposes or to move them on to missions. Come the colonisers, come the crime.
The recent death of George Floyd who was killed by police for no crime has sparked outrage in Australia and across the world. Aboriginal people organised and took part in Black Lives Matter rallies and campaigning in Australia. The media had an opportunity to speak to the organisers and families of past and recent Black deaths in custody to hear their stories and to get a better understanding of their frustration and hurt. Instead, they reported on Black people in the police and this to me is a lack of respect to the deceased and the families.
Police in all States and Territories have recruitment initiatives such as Justice Entry Programs, Inclusion Programs and Cadetships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to join the police forces and service. During this period, they are indoctrinated from being the oppressed to being the oppressor. There are ulterior motives for their recruitment and I speak from experience when I tell you that Black people are used to infiltrate Black communities, to create rapport and to build relationships for intelligence purposes and quick arrests.
The longevity of Aboriginal police is not commonplace as they are subjected to racism and to speak up is to alienate yourself and risk being ostracised. Trust me when I tell you that it can be a lonely place when you do speak up and out. In my first year of policing, two Black cops were dismissed, one was charged with an indictable offence and the other took a much more drastic and permanent measure. Now if this is how police treat their own, you can only imagine how they treat Aboriginal people within the community.
I recently watched an episode of Northern Territory Cops and saw police patrolling the vicinity of a popular night life and entertainment hub on Mitchell Street, Darwin. Out of all the people on the street during this episode and there are many, the police go straight for Lachie. One of the officers mentions that he knows Lachie and his criminal history and even goes as far as speaking about Lachie’s modus operandi. Police conclude that Lachie is too intoxicated to enter the night clubs and that he should go home. The police do not offer to drive him home nor do they help him in any other way to get home but leave him on the streets. The police have failed in their duty of care, but because they are so concerned about the level of his intoxication, they advise security staff at a nightclub to not let Lachie in the premises. Police then leave to continue their patrol but Lachie is watched through surveillance cameras where you see him speaking to security staff asking to be let in. Through the lens, this is comical for police as the viewer hears and see police smiling and laughing. This doesn’t make good television but captures what we already know that police intentionally and purposely target Black people. This is one example among many that is in the media.
The media in Australia are obligated to report the truth to get the true message out there but they don’t and they don’t interrogate the role of policing. They begin with the assumption we need police and imagine it as a diversity issue. A recent example is when ABC did a feel good story on an Aboriginal police cadet in Western Australia and in this she says that when her little brother was in trouble, she was the only one he trusted. This is a telling insight into the distrust in communities because of the history of police violence.
Australia can benefit from embracing methods that were and continue to be used by Aboriginal people as we have always managed without police involvement. We have utilised customary Law long before colonisation and we continue to use this system for problem solving and for punitive purposes. We look out for each other, we support each other and when a problem arises we all band together as a collective and problem solve.
Veronica Heritage-Gorrie (Ronnie) is a proud Kurnai woman and a writer. Ronnie is an avid campaigner against family violence and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in Custody. Ronnie is passionate about pursuing Justice for mob who were and still affected by genocidal Stolen Generation. Veronica Heritage-Gorrie’s debut memoir Black and Blue will be published by Scribe Publications in April 2021. She is passionate and skilled in non-fiction memoir and is excited to extend this to film writing.