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Protests erupt across the country over Kumanjayi Walker murder

Written by: Lindy Nolan on 18 November 2019

Just days before 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker was murdered in Yuendumu, Kurnai, Gunditjmara, Wiradjuri, and Yorta Yorta writer Nayuka Gorrie spoke about deaths in custody on Q&A, “It’s not just racism and white supremacy. It’s wanting to disappear Indigenous people and for our sovereignty not to be upheld.

They “want to pin it on one person and say, ‘You know it’s one bad guy or it’s a couple of bad apples.’

“If we’re thinking about the police, if we’re thinking about institutions, we have to understand it’s a cultural issue. It’s a systemic issue,” Gorrie said.
Kumanjayi Walker is the 424th First Nations person to die in custody since the 1990 Royal Commission.

Eyewitness Senita Granites said police dragged Kumanjayi from his family home by his leg to the paddy wagon that then took him to the police station. Family were not informed of his death till the next day. 

In a message to rallies around the country, Senior Lawman Harry Jakamarra Nelson said, “He was minding his own business and they came in and shot him dead. There was no weapon at all. Hundreds of us waited outside. Even our Aboriginal police officer was not allowed in.”

Another Senior Warlpiri Lawman Ned Jampajinpa Hargraves said, “The police were giving us no information. They shot him in front of his family. Policeman is not qualified to look after him. Why three shots?” he asked.

Standing firm

The Warlpiri People are standing firm as support grows.

The Territory First Peoples’ legal service spoke out immediately.

The Central Australian Aboriginal Health Service has called for the inquest “to take priority over all other inquests”.

They want a report in three months, because families are dragged through years of anguish awaiting coroners’ reports.

The Central Lands Council called for immediate release of police body camera footage.

Protests have continued for a week. In every Australian capital city, record numbers protested. In Sydney, well over around 1500 gathered with just 24 hours’ notice, many times bigger than any recent death in custody rally.  In Adelaide, the cold granite columns of Parliament House were covered in blood red handprints.

In Alice Springs, hundreds gathered on Thursday and became thousands by Saturday, the biggest protest in the town’s recent history. There were also rallies on Elcho Island, at Elliott, Hermannsburg, Tennant Creek, on APY Lands and other parts of the NT, as well as in Kalgoorlie and in Geraldton WA where Yamatji woman Joyce Clark died in custody, shot by police, two months ago. Police provocatively increased their presence in Carnarvon for her funeral two days ago.
Until last week, no police officer had ever been charged with murder, though it’s been a demand at many inquests. The quick arrest of a police officer, charged with Walker’s murder, is testament to the strength of the Warlpiri and their wide connections.

But it’s also a ruling class attempt to quieten things down. That may succeed to a point.

But a significant shift in power has happened. Despite Yuendumu’s physical isolation, that story has spread like a flame across Australia.

The young are taking their Elders’ lead and learning the strength of unity.


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