Friday, June 22, 2007

Back to Normal...

I'm back. I think things are back to normal, at least for a little while. I have so many updates and so many photos, I barely know where to start. I guess I'll go with the trial, since it was the biggest thing for the past two weeks.

A bit of background, since most people probably are unfamiliar. In November 2004, an Aboriginal man was arrested for singing 'Who let the dogs out' (apparently offensive to the police) and for swearing. He was taken into the watch house, and an hour later he was dead. Mulrunji (his language name) died of internal bleeding, resulting from his liver being cleaved in two by his spine. The doctors all agree that a massive force must have been used, but in a small area, perhaps the size of a knee or a fist. Injuries like Mulrunji's are more commonly seen in vehicle accidents, or from hitting a tree while downhill skiing, according to the medical experts called during the trial. Though they knew the reason for his death, no one could say if the injuries were deliberate or accidental. Perhaps, when Mulrunji and Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley fell on their way into the police station, Hurley's knee was bent and landed on Mulrunji's abdomen. Or, Hurley deliberately knee-dropped the drunk, argumentative blackfulla. There are no witnesses, and though Hurley's original statements very clearly state that the two men fell side by side, he has since changed his statement.

A few investigations took place before it was decided that any charges should be brought against Hurley. So it was only 3 years later that he had his day in court. Or rather, seven days in court. Tony Koch, from The Australian newspaper, reported beautifully throughout the case. His opinion can be found here, printed only the day after the verdict came down. Look for other stories by him for a relatively objective rundown of the trial.

So, as a member of the Townsville Indigenous Human Rights Group, I was at the courthouse every day. I learned a lot about the justice system. They don't start court until 10 am, so every morning we would gather outside the court house for prayers, speakers, and dances to call on the ancestors and the spirits.

One day, a supporter from South Africa (now a nurse in Townsville) came dressed in her traditional gear, and requested support from her ancestors as well. Here she is, hugging one of Mulrunji's sisters.

Every morning, leaves and bark were burned for a traditional smoking ceremony, to cleanse the courthouse of bad spirits and negative energy. Here is Jai, doing the dance of the water eel, to call on the spirits in the ocean.

Jai and John played the didgeridoos. I love the contrast in this picture--Jai all painted up in his laplap, and John wearing track pants and a jumper.

Every day there was a small crowd, some traditionally dressed, others bundled up from the cold, but all sharing their strength and trying to bring justice to their brother who was killed.

Despite the seemingly rock-solid case of the prosecution, SenSgt Hurley was found not guilty of both assault and manslaughter. Although everyone was depressed about that fact, they recognise that the trial itself was a huge step. No police officer has ever been charged for a death in custody before in Australia, and that includes white people dying as a result of police brutality. So even though the white system let them down, these wonderful people are not giving up in their struggle for justice and equality.


KleoPatra said...

Wow, what a fascinating post. Terrific photos, too. Things are so different around the world but isn't it interesting how the miscarriage of justice is a worldwide phenomenon? Thank you for the look inside what is the justice system there and also at the natives of the land. So incredibly captivating... i am so glad you are in the Townsville Indigenous Human Rights Group. Makes me smile inside... and hopeful that justice will be done...

Anonymous said...

At the start of the trial and throughout there were prayers for justice to be done - we have to believe that our prayers were answered - maybe not the way we thought they would be.

Anonymous said...

I'm constantly amazed by the gross inadequacies in all government systems. It is really unfortunate that justice is not for all and corruption has saturated the legal framework. Good for you for being a part of the Townsville Indigenous Human Rights Group. I wish your group much success.

vko said...

It's amazing that this is the first time that a police officer has even been charged- simply mind-boggling.

Thankfully, hope springs eternal in all of us and people like our vegan blogger friends & your human rights group will keep pushing forward to address & stop injustice towards all living beings.

bazu said...

What a devastating verdict. I feel for the victim, his family, his community, and the sense of justice as a whole. Here in Syracuse, I went to a talk about a doctor who was arrested on bogus charges stemming from his founding of a Muslim charity. I will blog about it soon, and the perversion of the idea of justice that it represents. (I was going to say the perversion of the justice system, but I think the justice system is by definition perverse).
You did so much good by being a court watcher and spreading the word.