Please note: This story contains reference to someone who has died.
The eight-year-old son of JC, the Yamatji woman killed by police in Geraldton in 2019, has asked why the officer who shot his mother is not going to prison.
The jury in the murder trial of the police officer who shot JC returned a not-guilty verdict on Friday.
JC’s foster mother, Leslie Anne Jones, told the National Indigenous Times that her eight-year-old grandson asked her why the officer was cleared.
“He asked ‘why didn’t that police officer get jailed?’… For an eight-year-old child to have to ask that,” she said.
Jones said that after more than 430 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission ended 30 years ago and no convictions for anyone involved in those deaths, authorities “need to start opening their eyes and changing things”.
“That is so many deaths. What will it take? Will the politicians act?”
“What has happened in my family is just terrible. She was walking along minding her own business. She was such a nice girl, she was well respected in the community. That protest they had in Geraldton – all those people knew her, they respected her and loved her,” she said.
“I was not prepared for what was said in court about what happened to her. If I had been prepared, I would have said more – it was very, very unfair, how she was described. She was very respected.”
After losing her foster daughter, Jones said it took more than a year to visit the scene.
“I went to the site [where JC was shot]. It took me 16 months to be able to go to that site, I sat there for about three or four hours and cried to myself,” she said.
“She was dead before they got her to hospital. My granddaughter and daughter-in-law tried to see her, and they were locked out. It was very traumatising for them.
“There is no justice. We never got justice, that is the bottom line. It’s hurting a whole lot of us. She never got justice – it is so, so sad.”
Geraldton community members marched in the streets on Saturday in protest of the trial verdict.
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Protests are planned across the nation for Thursday October 28. They are a “national call for justice to address the police genocide of Aboriginal people”.
Demonstrations are planned in Perth at 11am at Parliament House, Geraldton at 11am in the park opposite the court house, Brisbane at 12pm outside parliament house, Sydney at 12.30pm at the supreme court, and Canberra at 12.30pm at parliament house.
Greens Senator for Victoria, Gunnai Gunditjmara and Djab Wurrung woman Lidia Thorpe, told the National Indigenous Times that the Greens are calling for “the full implementation of all recommendations from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, in collaboration with the families of those left behind after a death in custody”.
“This includes banning lethal choke holds, banning spit hoods, greater transparency in reporting deaths in custody, independent police prison oversight and more funding for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Legal Services,” she said.
Senator Thorpe said “a culturally safe, properly resourced independent prison oversight system under the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture” must be implemented nationwide.
“Without independent monitoring of places of detention more of our people will die in custody. Everyone has the right to be treated fairly.”
“Labor and Liberal governments have done the bare minimum and called it progress. They’ve had the recommendations from the Royal Commission for decades,” she said.
“They need to show leadership at the federal and state level and take action in true partnership with our people and our communities.”
Shadow Minister for Indigenous Australians and Wiradjuri woman Linda Burney, told the National Indigenous Times that “there will be many people in Western Australia and across the country who will be disappointed by this outcome”.
“Australia has a terrible history of violence against First Nations people, and the feelings of the community in relation to any one case need to be seen in this context,” she said.
“First Nations people – supported by the vast majority of Australians – are yearning for changes in our institutions that will bring about accountability, truth and justice.”
WA Minister for Police, Paul Papalia, told the National Indigenous Times that police officers are authorised to use force “when there is a real and imminent risk of serious injury or death either to themselves or other members of the community”.
He said the use of force by police “is governed by a strict policy which requires that it must be reasonably necessary in the circumstances and that officers will be individually accountable for such force”.
The Minister noted that the government has rolled out body-worn cameras to every frontline police officer “which importantly will provide an independent body of evidence, whenever officers draw their firearms”.
“We’ve also expanded Mental Health Police Co-Response teams, which sees police and mental health clinicians jointly attend crisis situations where mental illness is identified as a likely factor,” he said.
Papalia said the Aboriginal Affairs Division and Aboriginal Police Strategy established under Commissioner Chris Dawson strengthen “relationships between the WA Police Force and the Aboriginal community, by enhancing respect and understanding for Aboriginal people and their culture”.
By Giovanni Torre