I had not written a single word about 14 year old Elijah Doughty’s death. I have been supporting family members, since soon after this boy’s tragic death.
On Friday, 21 July 2017, a 56-year-old Kalgoorlie man (who cannot be named for legal reasons) was acquitted of the manslaughter of Elijah Doughty and sentenced to three years gaol on the lesser charge of “dangerous driving occasioning death”.
Despite my calling his death a murder I beg that no one uses this to rage to the point of violence or in doing anything that will get one arrested. Protests are one thing, but rage that leads to confrontation, to violence is another thing, and more often than not derails the ways forward. However it has to be called for what it is; murderous rage led to this boy’s death.
Kalgoorlie-Boulder is a diabolical place for the majority of Black people – for Aboriginal peoples. It’s a regional town steeped in various racism, in divides so deep that at the funerals of children who have been lost to suicide there is barely a White presence in the sea of Black.
On September 28, 1983, Roebourne became to Western Australia what two decades earlier Birmingham had become to Alabama; burning racism. The death of 16 year old John Pat, bashed to death by an inebriated police officer put Roebourne on the map for all the wrong reasons. In 1986 an all-White jury acquitted the police officers. But the fact is that John Pat was bashed to death, he was killed by murderous rage. So too was 14 year old Elijah Doughty. Dangerous driving leading to death is crap, it is reductionist, minimalist.
34 years ago, an off-duty police officer, alcohol drunk let his racism play out in killing 16-year-old Yindjibarndi John Pat. John died because he was Black, because of the colour of his skin. Four off-duty police officers and an off-duty police aide laid into half a dozen of Roebourne’s Yindjibarndi youth. Only a little while earlier one of the youth, Ashley James was trying to score alcohol at the hotel. Ashley dished cheek to the one of the off-duty police officers who was there too. The copper yelled at Ashley, “We’ll get you, Black cunt.” He followed him out of the Victoria Hotel and laid into him, leading to a brawl between Yindjibarndi youth and the inebriated police. John Pat stepped in to pull away his mate Ashley. The rage filled copper laid into John.
It was claimed that John Pat died some time later in a police cell but I don’t believe this. He died outside the Victoria Hotel, soon after the punches laid him hard to the earth. His aorta torn, bones broken, his body battered, he fell backwards to the hard red earth. In those minutes Roebourne became to Western Australia what two decades earlier Birmingham had become to Alabama. Western Australia became known to the rest of the nation for its abominable maltreatment of Aboriginal peoples; in effect the Western Australia border is Australia’s Mason-Dixon Line.
A witness said that John Pat’s body was “tossed” into the back of a police van “like a dead kangaroo.” But hey, what’s Black testimony worth? In racist Western Australia the police officers were slapped across their wrists for washing down John’s body and changing his clothes before investigators could view the body. Despite that the police falsified charge sheets and testimonies they got off. No surprise.
We could hash up a number of race-fuelled deaths such as former Constable Chris Hurley’s killing of Mulrunji Doomadgee but hey most Australians know all too well despite that he was never jailed. Nowhere near enough has changed. Ms Dhu’s death was diabolical racism but at least CCTV footage captured the inhumane treatment for all to see. However there will be some justice here in time although too late for Ms Dhu’s father who at 47 years of age passed away only weeks ago. Some may think that 47 years of age is young but if you’re born Black in Western Australia, half the males are not likely to reach 50 years of age. The life expectancy gap of 10 years between Aboriginal peoples and Australians is a false one. The life expectancy gap estimation is indeed that, something to be hoped for but it is not supported by reality. In 2014, the median age of death for Aboriginal males in Western Australia was 49.9 years, the lowest in the nation. Half died less than 49.9 years of age. The nation’s highest median age at death was NSW’s 58 years.
Western Australia has the nation’s highest median wage, one of the world’s highest, but the state can’t or won’t invest in transforming the lives of its Aboriginal peoples living in poverty. If you are born Black in Western Australia, you have a three in five chance of living poor your whole life. In the Northern Territory it’s a three in four chance.
One in thirteen of Western Australia’s Aboriginal adult males is in prison; from a racialised lens that’s the world’s highest jailing rate.
At the commencement of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, John Pat’s mother, Mavis, said, “I don’t know what is going to come out of the Royal Commission but I hope it makes everything better for Aboriginal people.” More than two decades later Mavis said to me, “Nothing has got better. If anything it is worse.”
Kalgoorlie-Boulder boasts as Australia’s largest outback town, nearly 100,000 square kilometres and 34,000 in population.
7.7 per cent of the Kalgoorlie-Boulder population is Aboriginal but they account for more than three quarters of the local Eastern Goldfields Regional Prison population. One in five of Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s Aboriginal population is either in prison or homeless. The socioeconomic disadvantage of the majority of the region’s Aboriginal population is among the state’s worst but it is grinding poverty alongside relative affluence – Black poverty, White affluence.
Someone has to call out the perpetrator of Elijah’s death for what he did. It was rage filled violence, of such intense rage that it was murderous. I am not a lawyer but in my view the law and the court got it all wrong.
The killer’s family lived in Kalgoorlie for six years. He said when interviewed by police after Elijah’s death, “We didn’t come here to have motorbikes stolen.” I have had many wrongs done to me, worse than dirt bikes being stolen but I don’t chase the culprits to their deaths or to any physical injury.
I feel for everyone. I am a bleeding heart and step into everyone’s shoes. I feel for the killer whom rage and racism blighted. I feel for his family who will never be the same. I feel most for Elijah whose potential life years were ripped from him. I feel for his loved ones, for his mother, father and grandfather whom I have come to know well. Elijah is dead. He was killed over a damned bike.
Elijah died under the killer’s two-tonne ute. The killer was a mine worker, earning a good quid while Elijah’s family like most of Western Australia’s Black families do it tough, do it poor; families reeling from the impacts of inter-generational poverty, from the damage strewn by this nation’s past cruelties and abominations.
On August 28 last year, the killer’s family returned home from an evening out to find that they had two old dirt bikes stolen.
That night and the next morning he went looking for the bikes. He was advised to go to a patch of dirt at the end of Clancy Street, to Gribble Creek Reserve; a small stretch of uneven earth and scrub where bikes are often ridden.
CCTV footage near the reserve shows the ute at the beginning of the pursuit – Goliath chasing down David. It should not matter that there is no CCTV footage of the impact. The rage filled driver consciously made a decision to dangerously pursue instead of calling the police from his mobile phone.
The CCTV footage of the pursuit was averaged at a speed of 67 km per hour. The CCTV footage evidenced he was making ground on Elijah who rode at an average speed of 46 km per hour. The closer he got to Elijah at the speed he was travelling in his two-tonne utility so too were elevated the risks of Elijah being killed.
The pursuit is believed to have been 26 seconds long. The killer made a cognitive decision to chase at speed. The killer was driving a twin cab two tonne ute. Elijah was riding a 70CC dirtbike. He was not wearing a helmet. The killer sped up on him. Despite the rage, cognitively and dialectically he was making decisions. He was thinking, he was making conscious decisions, we are sentient creatures, there were clear understandings in what he was doing, he was driving at dangerous speeds, life was at risk. There can be no doubting that he knew he was putting Elijah’s life at risk.
The killer had claimed to police, “I was hoping that he would take off into the bush and hopefully fall off there.” The prosecution played the police interview to the court. This statement indicts cognition. It is unreasonable to argue that he did not understand the boy could be seriously injured, debilitated or killed.
The killer claims Elijah erred a turn on the bike and into the front of the two-tonne ute. Even if true, so what? He was consciously driving in such a dangerous manner, intentional manner, that at any time such could happen and did. The moment the killer drove off the bitumen road and onto Gribble Creek Reserve all doubt ended that he had elevated the risks to the near unavoidable of Elijah being in the least seriously injured and very likely killed. Elijah’s body was flung from the dirt bike, nearly ten metres. The ute continued on for more than 30 metres. The ute went right over Elijah, splitting his skull, snapping his brain stem, mangling his body, killing him instantly.
There is no place for this sort of murderous rage. There is no place for violent rage period. That this is dangerous driving leading to death is crap. Rage murdered Elijah.
Historical and contemporary racism denied Elijah’s family the same opportunities that Kalgoorlie-Boulder’s White families in general enjoy – you know, White privilege.
That “intent” had to be proved is abominable. Intent was everywhere or where else did the inexcusable chase arise from? A chase that continued at speed from off the bitumen road onto Gribble Creek Reserve which at the speeds this two-tonner was going at on the uneven red earth and dry scrub was nothing else but an obvious death trap.
I wish the killer peace, redemption, and that his family carry on but there can be no lying. They need to own up in order to be entitled to peace. Everyone is entitled to peace. The lying and its acceptance denies us all, humiliates us, diminishes us, reduces us to the obscene and the vile. It is viciously disrespectful to Elijah’s families, and to the Aboriginal peoples of Kalgoorlie-Boulder, to pretend that this wasn’t murderous rage, that there wasn’t racism. As long as we deny the truth it will toxically translate as racism, internalising grief, dividing peoples.
There is nothing to be gained by violent protests, nothing to be gained by the type of violent rage that consumed the killer, but everything to be gained by the truth and of the right that it be freely spoken. Validating people and contexts is a significant way forward from racism, wrongs, inequalities.
On August 29th last year Kalgoorlie-Boulder became to Western Australia, what Roebourne had become 34 years earlier. It’s now in the hands of the Western Australian Government to stand up or be like their predecessors and let the racism burn wild.
Interview -2016 – by Tjuma Pulka Radio journalist Elizabeth Carmody of Gerry Georgatos