Protests Erupt Over Yet Another Indigenous Death In Police Custody

by Sonia Hickey

South East Queensland has erupted into protest over the death of an Indigenous woman in Police Custody.

Several hundred “Black Lives Matter” protesters have marched Brisbane for a second time, and more protests are planned for other areas in Southern Queensland in the coming weeks.

The protest is in response to the death of Aunty Sherry Tilberoo, a 49-year old mother of three, who was found unresponsive in a cell at the Brisbane watch house last week. She had been in the watchhouse for several days on drug and theft charges and was awaiting transfer to a correctional centre. Police say she died of natural causes, and an investigation by Ethical Standards Command is underway.

Investigation into the death

A vigil was held outside Queensland police headquarters where protesters lit candles to remember ‘Aunty.’ A banner hangs over a Queensland bridge and the roadside outside the police station where she died has been graffitied with the words: “Justice” and “Black Lives Matter.”

Protestors are blaming Aunty’s death, along with other Indigenous deaths in custody on police negligence and “systemic” racism. Many are also angry that the inquiry into Aunty Sherry’s death is being undertaken by Ethical Standards Command, the police’s own internal investigative body.

‘In no way racist’

And despite a Queensland Police Officer being photographed wearing a patch that, in the words of the Victoria’s Assistand Police Commissioner Tess Walsh “is aligned with white supremacists and extreme right wing movements”, at a Brisbane Black Lives Matter rally last week, the Queensland Police Commissioner has defended the force saying that is in no way racist.

In a statement, the QPS said it had ‘ended’ the matter by removing the patch from the officer’s uniform, and the officer remains on the force. It is unclear whether he has received any formal reprimand or direction to attend cultural awareness training.

The patch, depicts a representation of the American flag bisected with a thin blue line. The Thin Blue Line movement has been criticised in the US for supporting militarised policing while overlooking an epidemic of police brutality, racism and bigotry.

But yesterday, Queensland’s Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll has since defended the state’s force as being “in no way racist.”

“We’ve done the right thing here all along. “We’ve been extraordinarily open and transparent about this investigation, like we should be and always are.

“Sadly, she did pass away …  sadly, it was of natural causes, but we are in no way racist.”

There have been calls for CCTV footage from the police station where Aunty Sherry died to be released to the public, however Commissioner Carrol says they have been sent to the Coroner.

This is of little solace to the Indigenous community mourning another death in custody.

Indigenous deaths in custody continue

Aunty Sherry is the fifth Indigenous person to die in custody in Australia since June this year and the 441st death in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. No one has ever been convicted over an Indigenous death in custody.

The fact remains that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are totally over-represented in the justice system. Despite comprising only 3 percent of Australia’s population, they make up almost a third of adults jailed across the country.

The rates are even higher for Indigenous youth, who are 16 times more likely than non-Indigenous youth to be under youth justice supervision – in detention, or on bail, parole or probation.

And often, they end up in the criminal justice system for minor offences like unpaid fines, and driving offences, as well as public drunkenness.

Queensland is the only state in Australia which still has a specific offence of public drunkenness, – a charge that the 1991 Royal Commission found disproportionately affected Aboriginal people.

Victoria only abolished the law last year, after the death in custody of Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, who was arrested on this charge.

Author

Sonia Hickey

Sonia Hickey is a freelance writer, magazine journalist and owner of 'Woman with Words'. She has a strong interest in social justice, and is a member of the Sydney Criminal Lawyers® content team.

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