Rallies have begun in cities across Australia to protest against ongoing Indigenous deaths in custody and mark 30 years since the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody handed down its final report.
About 1,000 people attended the first rally in Brisbane’s King George Square on Saturday morning. Large crowds had also gathered in Sydney and Melbourne by early on Saturday afternoon.
First Nations people spoke with visceral anger that, three decades on, the royal commission’s recommendations remain unrealised and underfunded.
An investigation by Guardian Australia found that at least 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since then, including five people since the start of March this year.
“We don’t want reform,” Gamilaraay Kooma woman Ruby Wharton told the crowd in Brisbane.
“If anything proves it, this royal commission does. The people who advocated for the royal commission, they have done fuck all since … We still die. Where is the outrage? Where is the shame?
“The system has failed us once again. We cannot pretend to be shocked by that. We cannot pretend anymore that we can appeal to the morality of our oppressors.
“This royal commission has proved to us that we don’t need to be taking that route anymore. We aren’t asking for morality. We are demanding justice.”
Wharton read a series of statements written by family members of Indigenous people who had died in custody.
Relatives of Aunty Sherry Fisher-Tilberoo, who died in Queensland police custody last year and was not checked on for six hours, also spoke to the crowd in King George Square.
“It’s not easy getting up here and talking abut the person, the family member … who died in police custody last year,” a relative of Fisher-Tilberoo said.
“As a family we shouldn’t have to suffer the grief, the pain. How is this still happening in 2021? Who can answer these questions that all the families are seeking? It’s not right. Enough is enough.”
In Sydney, Leetona Dungay, the mother of David Dungay Jr, told the crowd how her son had been rushed by prison guards while he was eating a biscuit in his cell. Before he died he said 12 times that he could not breathe.
“Let me get this straight: the situation was so bad [30 years ago], brothers and sisters dying in police cells and paddy wagons and prisons, they had a royal commission,” Leetona Dungay said.
“No more royal commissions, I want real justice. The life of an Aboriginal man is worth something.”