”Brother, you’re not a criminal! You’re a warrior!”

"It must never again be the case that a death in custody, of Aboriginal or non-Aboriginal persons, will not lead to rigorous and accountable investigations and a comprehensive coronial inquiry.”
This was a key recommendation -- among 339 --handed down in 1991 by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. In the time since,deaths in police custody have continued and the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in November 2004 could have been just another brutal indigenous statistic. >>

It wasn’t, because this time the community on Palm Island had had enough of these deaths and marched on the police station in protest. During this action the police station was burnt down.

This militant response to Mulrunji’s death was an opening shot in a campaign that was to last for the next two years as the the state government, judiciary and police force actively sabotaged all attempts to pursue a rigorous and accountable investigation into the aboriginal man’s death. But on Invasion Day, January 26th, it was announced that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would be charged with manslaughter for the unlawful killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee two years previously.

While this result is a major win for indigenous Australians, it is also indicative of what Sam Watson, the leader of the campaign, called “an indigenous political renaissance.” The campaign for justice was driven by a resurgence of protest politics within the indigenous community that marginalised the layer of conservative aborigines who both Labor and the Coalition had cultivated nationally as the community’s default leadership. This generated a burgeoning sense of confidence and empowerment that was driven by a succession of militant rallies and protest marches. New layers stepped forward to articulate community concerns and anger. Warriors from past battles were inspired to re-commit to the struggle and a conscious attempt was made to emphasize the continuity of indigenous political resistance. The nebulous politics of reconciliation was swept aside as very clear perspectives emerged as this movements key demands and a new leadership asserted itself.

As Kooree activist, Jenny Monroe, told the Brisbane Invasion Day rally,” I feel it is more important to be here in Brisbane where our people stand up and fight still. I’m a fighter from New South Wales and I like to see other black fighters and that’s why I’m here with you today because you are still standing and you are still defying this racist government and you are still saying ,’ it’s not good enough -- your apologies, your sell outs -- they’re all not good enough. What we want is justice. What we want is our land back. What we want is our sovereign right to decide what we want, when we want it and how we want it -- for ourselves, for our children and our children’s children ’.”

Determination like this created a crisis for the Beattie Labor government. When the Deputy Coroner Christine Clements ruled that Hurley was responsible for Mulrunji’s death , the subsequent refusal by the Director of Public Prosecutions, Leanne Clare, to charge Hurley exposed the dedicated servile relationship that existed between the ALP , the state’s police force and its judiciary. Labor’s accommodation to the state’s bureaucracy--embraced in the wake of the collapse of the corrupt National Party government of Joh Bjelke Petersen in the late eighties --was strained as Beattie fell back on apologising legalese to excuse his inaction.

By the time that the most senior indigenous public servant and celebrated police corruption whistle blower, Col Dillon, had resigned (in December 2006) -- any anti racist credits the ALP could claim in the indigenous community had been spent.

After finally being forced to concede to the movement’s demands and arrange a review of the DPP’s decision by an interstate judge, Beattie has been trying to placate the Queensland Police Union which has begun a campaign of industrial action and protests. In effect , the QPU is demanding that its membership be placed above the law and that police have a right to kill and abuse aborigines with impunity.

As the union and Beattie debate the future of policing indigenous communities in Queensland, the chronic disregard shown towards the recommendations of the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody has exposed how institutionalised racism is in Queensland. If there was any doubt on that point the January 10th firing of a gun to scare off a crowd attacking the police station at the north Queensland Aboriginal community of Aurukun indicated what still constitutes police practice in indigenous communities.

In the face of this the indigenous response has been even more determined.“We don’t have anything to reconcile about,” Lex Wotton told the Invasion Day protest.,”We didn’t commit the murders.”

Wotton is alleged to have been a ring leader of the 2004 protest on Palm Island that saw the watch hose torched. “ I’m not going to back down to anything.“he continued,” because I know I have you people behind me and that’s all I need”

The January 26th rally ended with a keen response from protest organizer, Sam Watson, which was greeted with cheers and applause:”Brother, you’re not a criminal! You’re a warrior!”