Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos work extensively in the suicide prevention space. Here they discuss the tragedy of Blak lives lost. Megan is the MC of Saturday’s Black Lives Matters protest in Perth, that both the Prime Minister and the WA Premier argued should be called off. Gerry is one of the invited speakers.
The tragedy of Blak deaths in custody has been arguably two centuries long.
In the last two centuries, hundreds of cultures of First Peoples were systematically oppressed and banished.
Now, the majority of Australians are aware their nation is the mother of all jailers of First Peoples. The Black Lives Matter movement has made sure of this.
There were 138 Blak deaths in custody during the 1980s, with 99 of these deaths reviewed by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
Since the Royal Commission, there have been at least a further 437 Blak deaths in custody.
Deaths in custody are the tip of the iceberg, that which is visible to us. Below the water’s surface, this iceberg is sinisterly huge—the mass incarceration of Blak lives, of Australia’s First Peoples.
Since the Royal Commission completed its public inquiry in 1991, the Blak prison population has more than doubled. Today, 3.3 percent of Australians identify as First Nations, but they comprise nearly 30 percent of this nation’s prison population.
One in 50 Australians have been to prison—500,000 Australians out of a population of 25 million.
Of the 750,000-strong First Nations population, 120,000 have been to prison—one in six.
We estimate that by 2025, in only half a decade, Blak lives will comprise nearly one in two of Australia’s incarcerated.
There is a carceral estate in this nation that debilitates First Peoples. We need to drive this message home.
The prison population is comprised majorly of people who, from the beginning of life, never had a chance. If anyone dares to think and prosecute the case that racism is on its way out, they are a long way from understanding the veils and layers of racism and indeed its core definition.
Racism is intended as a form of slavery and ostracism. Many of us watch nervously the mishandling by Australia’s mainstream media in trying to dismantle racism—as if it is simple.
Some media programs seem to believe or are comforted by the idea that having several Blak and Brown faces and other CALD (culturally and linguistically diverse) migrants on their panels, somehow addresses racism.
Racism needs to be psycho-educatively unfolded—with must-do expertise driving a critical thinking approach. The simplistic approach, for instance by the mainstream media, only leads to platitudes, mantras and pitchfork standoffs.
For the last half century, we have been drowned in simplistic narratives of racism. By no stretch of the imagination is Australia, and its institutions, a poly-culturally inclusive society.
Blak deaths are the tip of the iceberg, and rather than shave the tip alone to sea level, we should melt the iceberg.
The carceral estate has not occurred by chance, it is a structural culmination—the oppressor’s bidding.
There is a hostile denial of racism doused in white privilege in this country—even many sons and daughters of old white privilege who stand and march along BIPOC sisters and brothers.
The tokenistic and symbolic approaches to understanding racism have lulled the majority into a false sense of security and appropriateness. One in 21 Aboriginal men are presently incarcerated. Re-read this—one in 21! This is the highest jailing rate in the world. The nation should weep.
The further west we journey across this continent, the worse the racism and its depravity. In Western Australia, one in 12 of the state’s Aboriginal men are in prison.
We have worked these figures on the back of data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, where they have tallied 4.8 percent of all First Nations men are in jail compared with 0.3 percent of the rest of Australia’s jailed men.
This mass incarceration underwrites the high number of Blak deaths in custody. The rest of the iceberg also includes children removed into out-of-home care, into institutions that fail them. It includes broken lives and the homeless and the saddest culmination of all, suicides.
Let us not fall for the trap of mere targets—words before deeds—including targets focused on reducing the numbers of the incarcerated, of children removed, of suicides.
Our governments need to do some spending; spending that must be done through a triage-based lens, until the have-nots indeed have.
Others sacrificed for the rights many of us enjoy today. It is our duty to sacrifice for those who will otherwise be left behind.
The Black Lives Matter movement is arguing a case that we should build our civil dissent and campaigns around those in need. We should never dare to contemplate the thought that we put the unmet needs of shattered lives second. If we need to drop tools, get home late, stick our privilege in the bin, this we must do. Only then will governments begin to take notice.
Both of us, as Blak and Brown children, have lived through experiences of ugly racism and it haunts. Our children deserve better.
In our work with those most at risk, those living in crushing poverty, the voiceless, over 70 percent are Blak lives, 20 percent coloured lives, and the rest, impoverished white sisters and brothers.
Most Australians do not know one in four homeless Australians are First Peoples. One in three are migrant born, mostly CALD. Blak and coloured lives sadly comprise nearly three-quarters of homeless Australians.
Saturday is Perth’s Black Lives Matter protest—civil dissent. There’s the government’s concern about the potential ‘spread’ of Coronavirus.
It’s our educated view and gut instinct that if governments were serious in eliminating the Coronavirus threat, they’d first house the homeless, end homelessness altogether.
The Perth CBD has 300 street present homeless people. Perth, as a whole, disowns 1,000 street homeless souls. Half of Perth’s homeless are Blak lives, invisible.
The slow crawl to the promise of equality is betrayed by countless fallen, the body counts.
The media, too, fails to understand racism and is incapable. Addressing racism with symbolism, words alone, with Blak and coloured faces rushed onto their panels to be diminished by banal questions is not addressing racism.
There’s a long way to go, with more uncertainty than certainty.
By Megan Krakouer and Gerry Georgatos
Megan Krakouer is a Mineng Noongar woman from Mt Barker in Western Australia’s southwest. Presently, Megan is the Director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery (NSPTRP) and also works as a human rights legal practitioner for the National Justice Project.
Gerry Georgatos, the son of CALD migrants, is a suicide prevention and poverty researcher with an experiential focus. He has a Masters in Human Rights Education and a Masters in Social Justice Advocacy & Civil Rights Arbitration. He is the National Coordinator of the NSPTRP.