ABOUT 500 people gathered in Langley Park for a youth rally supporting the Black Lives Matters protests last Saturday.
With posters demanding governments address the appalling rate of Indigenous incarceration in Australia and work towards sovereignty for First Nations people, the grassroots group responsible for organising the protest, Boorloo Justice, guided the chanting protesters through the city.
“The voices of youth are ultimately the catalyst for racial equality and national reform,” Boorloo’s team said in a statement on their Facebook page.
The wave of BLM protests rippling through cities across the world was sparked by the death of African American man George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police on May 25.
Activists across Australia have since brought the movement’s message into an Australian context, by raising awareness of First Nations people who have died in police custody, and the fact their incarceration rates are higher than those of African Americans in the US.
According to a report released in March, the Australian Indigenous incarceration rate rose above the African American incarceration rate in 2017.
The report, authored by Federal Labor frontbencher Andrew Leigh, shows African American incarceration rates in 2017 were 2,304 per 100,000, while in Australia the Indigenous rate was 2,433 per 100,000 in the same year.
Since then, Australia’s rate has continued to rise, while America’s is steadily decreasing.
“It’s happening worse in Australia,” said protest marshal Ariel Turner.
She says the public needs to be more aware of Indigenous deaths in custody, increasing incarceration rates, and told the Voice she wants white Australians to be better allies to the movement.
“Being white, I have so much more safety to speak out about it. This is something that’s been underground for too long,” she said.
Boorloo Justice leader Bree Yarran said she wanted Australians to look past the blunt statistics of how many Indigenous people have died in custody.
“We have to look at what came before, that brought us here,” she said.
During her address, Ms Yarran spoke about Australia’s history of making racist policies, specifically the ‘Aborigines Act 1905’ which opened the door to thousands of people, including her Grandmother, to be taken from their families and put into missions.
“Though the Stolen Generation policies ended in the 1970s, it still has an ongoing effect on First Nations family members,” Ms Yarran said.
“There is a new Stolen Generation still happening today.” First Nations children in Australia today are 10.2 times more likely to be placed in out of home care than non-Indigenous children.
“In WA alone, First Nations children make up 55 percent of children in foster care,” she said.
Ms Yarran attributes this to “systematic failings by the government which echo our devastating and traumatic past”.
Elders told the crowd stories of other racist crimes they and their family members had experienced in years gone by.
One woman read from her grandfather’s journal about white people “taking our ears from our bodies and putting them up on the wall”.
Keith Tapiwanashe Makuni called on WA premier Mark McGowan to use the same energy fighting systemic racism as he did to mitigate the Covid crisis.
“We want a new era. We want empowerment. We want equality. We want fair treatment,” he said during his speech.
The Voice spoke to a handful of protesters who felt the police presence was over the top, both at the protest and in Perth City generally.
“Perth is a small city with a big police presence,” said sister activists, Sym and Shaan who moved here from London in September last year.
The sisters told the Voice they felt there was “macho behaviour among police,” saying there’s “not much reason for it other than intimidation”.
After the rally, protester Hannah said she felt “there was an imbalance in the number of police officers per each protester.
In my opinion the police officers at this protest were noticeably more provocative than the previous protest”.
Hannah says police officers smirked when protesters ‘took a knee’ in solidarity, and she recalls “one male police officer even scoffed”.
“First Nations people are only 3 per cent” of the population, says Ms Yarran. “We need the other 97 percent to stand in solidarity to make a difference.”
by Kelly Warden