Saturday, January 27, 2007

A poke in the blind eye

Still focusing on Australia, but I think with appropriate comparative emphasis.

While John Howard was busy extolling the ‘greatest nation on Earth, Queensland police are threatening strike action and protest marches over the decision to charge a veteran officer with the death in custody of Palm Islander Mulrunji Doomadgee.

Mulrunji died after being struck while on the floor of a police station on November 19, 2004.. For reasons we can only make a reasonable guess at, the State’s Director of Public Prosecutions found that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley had no charges to face, despite a coronial inquest finding that he landed the fatal blows that killed Mulrunji Doomadgee while the aboriginal man was in custody on Queensland's Palm Island.

The findings tell, according to one senior journalist, Alan Ramsay, “a terrible story of brutish attitudes and the further degradation of public life in this country.”

We have been down the ‘deaths in custody’ trail in great depth in this country. I recall covering a part of a Royal Commission into this dark underside of the Australian system, back in the (Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody) back in the 90s.

The issue became a counterpoint to Howard’s glowing summation of the country because the Queensland government was finally forced to find an independent arbitrator. The Palm Island people and aboriginals generally were not going to let it slide.

A few weeks back they appointed highly respected jurist and former NSW chief justice Laurence Street to review the case. Street has now found that evidence against Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley would most likely result in a conviction. Hurley will now face court.

While the victims of rough policing are rejoicing, while Howard is raving about the greatest country on Earth, the Queensland police are threatening to strike rather than see one of their own face justice.

But it is the justice and the questionable policing that really is in question. One aboriginal activist. Murandoo Yanner, claims Hurley as a mate “a most decent and most likeable bloke”. He adds, Hurley, like him, is just a ‘thug and a mug”. He is quick to point out, that like him, Hurley never walks away from a brawl!

Yanner misses the point, as do the Queensland police; the upholders of the legal system should be above the rough and tumble. It is not their place to react to behaviour but to uphold justice.

Whenever cops, like Hurley, cross the line and break the law to achieve their perceived ends they undermine the process. The law is not the law of the old testament, it cannot be allowed to become ‘rough justice’.

Hurley is nothing more than the presenting issue here. The fact that the police are willing to bully the wider community to cover their transgressions highlights a much wider problem.

While these problems continue Howard has no right to crow his nonsense about greatest nation. A fair an equitable society is the only true measure of that greatness.

As to the police, let them strike. Time and again, when the cops duck for cover crime drops. It is an odd equation, but not hard to prove.

But it goes so much further than police initiated violence, there is also police blindness. While following up on the long running Vancouver pig farm murders today I came across a story involving two people I’d known in BC.

The perspective here is that young native American women were disappearing from Vancouver’s East Side for some years, Bur police failed to see a pattern and look for an answer until nearly 50 women were killed.

I met Sto:lo activist Ernie Crey Ernie once or twice during the 2004 election campaign in Canada and he was everything I had been promised, cool, even tempered and highly intelligent.

In fact I could have easily supported Ernie in a quest for any office in Canada, or simply been happy being a friend. But Ernie was baring a cross that was beyond anything I’d ever experienced.

His sister, Dawn Crey’s DNA, was found in January, 2004 at Pickton’s Port Coquitlam farm, east of Vancouver.

The other person in this ‘local’ story is Robert Freeman, reporter for the Chilliwack Progress. He, like many involved in the Fraser Valley area of BC, knows Ernie’s story.

Freeman writes – “Crey’s cool under pressure, his ability to articulate complex issues to the media, led to him to become a spokesman for the families of the missing women when Vancouver police were still in denial that a serial killer was on the loose.

It’s hard to imagine Crey confused, angry or isolated.”

“Everyone thinks I’m even-tempered,” he said during a Wednesday interview. “(But) I’m like everyone else, I’m no different than anyone. What’s going on has affected me right down to the core of who I am.” Chilliwack Progress

Now I have the greatest sympathy for anyone living in within shouting distance of BC, but heart must go out to family of victims who were not really recognised as victims for years.

I have a high regard for both these characters, each has given me good reason for that. In that interview Ernie said it all! “What’s going on has affected me right down to the core of who I am.”

Wherever I go in this world, among the few arseholes, the many bland nobodies, I meet a few genuinely incredible people. In Canada Crey and Freeman were among them, and they are the sort of people who inspire me to keep on rabbiting about real issues.

Far to often the law is only concerned with those who matter, for whatever reasons they are. It is largely an economic process and easily sidelines those who don’t carry the clout. It’s not just Australia, Canada or even the US. The mindset that dispossesses is fairly universal.

No John Howard, we will never be the greatest while we tolerate oppression.

For the majority who choose not to engage in freeing all from these kinds of oppressions, think again. Tomorrow it might be you.

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