Black Lives Matter in Australia too.
“Whoever amongst you sees an evil, he must change it with his hand. If he is not able to do so, then with his tongue. And if he is not able to do so, then with his heart, and that is the weakest form of faith”
– The Prophet Muhammad ﷺ (Nawawi’s 40, no. 34)
We stand in solidarity with people around the world fighting to end racial discrimination in all its forms, especially that of racist policing and mass imprisonment. Black lives matter.
Protests against racial profiling and police killings of Black Americans are continuing following the murder of George Floyd on 25 May 2020 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The protests are the most widespread and sustained demonstrations since the civil rights movement 50 years ago.
The protests were sparked in part by the killing of George Floyd by since-fired police officer Derek Chauvin, who kneeled on Floyd’s neck for nearly 9 minutes, despite Floyd repeatedly saying he could not breathe. Chauvin was arrested and charged by authorities with third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter on the 29 May 2020.
The police response in respect of the protests can only be described as an abuse of power and an increase in police brutality against those protesting. Examples include a police vehicle driving into protesters in New York, the use of paint rounds against civilians in Minneapolis, and the deliberate targeting of journalists.
George Floyd’s death is one of the many sustained brutalities and savageries committed against black Americans, uninterrupted since the end of slavery. Last year 1,099 people were killed by police in the US, with black Americans three times more likely than white people to be part of that number.
Police violence against Black Americans is a longstanding problem in the United States.
Floyd’s killing after being arrested for attempting to buy cigarettes with a suspected counterfeit $20 note, is only the most recent example of this. Just this year:
• In February, 25-year-old black man Ahmaud Arbery was followed in a truck during his afternoon jog and shot dead by a white man and his father in an apparent citizen’s arrest. Private citizens can only make arrests in that state if they witness or have firsthand knowledge of the offence. It took weeks for local officials to charge the father and son, and this only occurred after public outcry once a video was released of the killing.
• In March, Breonna Taylor of Louisville, Kentucky, was shot dead in her own apartment by officers executing a search warrant, who used a battering ram to enter her residence. She was only 26-years-old, an emergency room technician and aspiring nurse. Fury over her killing in March has been driving protests in Louisville.
We would be appalled if these killings were one-off horrific tragedies. Unfortunately, these are only a few examples of a string of killings of unarmed Black Americans. Eric Garner, Laquan McDonald, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile, Botham Jean and Amadou Diallo and many more, known and unknown to the public. These are some of the names that should be ingrained in all of us. The deaths of countless black Americans should outrage, horrify, and mobilise us to do more.
Black people are three times more likely to be killed by police than white people, yet 1.3 times more likely to be unarmed compared to white people. There is no correlation between levels of violent crime in US cities and rates of police violence. The over-incarceration of black people, making up 13% of the overall population but 40% of the prison population, is a moral outrage. This is not about crime, it’s about racism. The egregious harming and killing of black people who commit no crime, without due process, and with impunity in the United States is incompatible with the most fundamental of human rights, the right to life.
Australia is no different. We, too, need to address the racism in our own backyards.
The continuing legacy of colonisation in Australia is the discrimination faced by the First Nations people. Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated minority in the world, making up 28% of the prison population but only 2.8% of the total population. Since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody (RCIADIC) (1987-1991), at least 432 Aboriginal people have been killed as a result of the actions of police or in police or prison custody. No police officer has been held criminally responsible for a death in police custody. The Federal and State governments have also failed to implement all the recommendations made by RCIADIC.
The treatment of First Nations People in Australia is shameful and ongoing. It is incompatible with Australia’s international legal and human rights obligations, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
We must do better. It is our duty as Muslims and as lawyers to fight injustice wherever we see it.
Whether it is by donating money to bail funds, attending protests, educating ourselves on the complex and systemic oppression of black populations, or amplifying the voices of black people, we must engage in action to be and do better. Please look at the resources listed below and consider sharing them.
There is a protest in Melbourne hosted by Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance on Saturday June 6 from 2-5pm at Parliament House. MLN asks that its members act in a way that safeguards the health of all those present.
Please consider donating either money or skills to these organisations which do valuable work here in Australia to end racist policing, deaths in custody, and over-incarceration of First Nations People.
Other State-based Aboriginal legal services:
The system of money bail exists in all US states and is a source of injustice. It requires those charged with a crime to pay often exorbitant amounts to be released on bail pending trial. It means that many innocent people are held in jail because they are unable to afford bail. Many protestors will likely be charged and be unable to post bail.
‘Australia had its own George Floyd moment, only it passed without international outrage’ Isabelle Higgins, ABC
‘‘Deaths in our backyard’: 432 Indigenous Australians have died in custody since 1991’ Lorena Allam, The Guardian
‘Here and in America, we must end black deaths in custody’ Human Rights Law Centre
‘America’s protests won’t stop until police brutality does’ Editorial Board, The New York Times
‘George Floyd’s Killing has opened the wounds of centuries of American racism’ Emily Stewart, VOX