The racial tensions that boiled over in the Western Australian coastal town of Geraldton after the hit and run deaths of two 40-year-old Yamatjis who were walking their children, has led to calls for equality and justice before the law – for Aboriginal peoples. The father of one of the victims, Wayne Warner has said that the driver had compassion shown to him that would not have been shown to an Aboriginal person.
“What is the difference between a black life and a white life? Are we worth less?” said Mr Warner.
Hundreds protested outside the Geraldton police station, and the young man was charged. But grieving Yamatjis have said that because the 23-year-old driver was tested positive for being above the limit for alcohol consumption he should have been charged with dangerous driving causing death, but he was not. He has been charged with leaving the scene, not rendering assistance and for reckless driving. But the charges may be upgraded.
Seven children have been left without a mother, Christine, and her funeral was Friday past, and it drew more than 1,000 mourners, mostly Yamatjis who filled the church, standing room only and with the crowd overflowing all around the church. Christine’s friend, Ossie, was buried on the previous Friday and similarly his funeral drew as many mourners.
Rallies are calling for justice, not vigilante-like justice against the young man who has ruined many lives including his own, but justice that can see one day all Australians treated equally before the law. May that be redemption said Ms Capewell, but that it has to be the case for both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal.
Geraldton’s Joyce Capewell said that there are two sets of laws. “One is for non-Aboriginal people and the other is for Aboriginal people. Our people are arrested at horrific rates, our people do something allegedly wrong and they’re in the lockup, with a justice system that appears to have made up its mind, while if you’re non-Aboriginal you experience natural justice, we don’t get that.”
“Racism is everywhere. I was an Aboriginal Visitors Scheme officer for 20 years, I’ve worked two decades within the prison system and alongside authorities,and I can tell you racist mindsets flourish. Our people are at a disadvantage.
We have to start standing up for the call for one justice, a fair justice for all.”
Noongar rights advocate, Marianne Mackay, travelled from Perth to Geraldton with many others for the funeral of Ossie.
“It was the biggest funeral I’d ever seen, so many people present, so much grief. The church was full, people everywhere, tears everywhere, wailing and aching sadness, the injustices of being Aboriginal were felt by all, despite us being a proud and honourable peoples,” said Ms Mackay.
“The police wronged in not charging this young man with dangerous driving causing death,” said the third-year University of Western Australia law student.
“His actions did lead directly to the deaths. It was not manslaughter but he should have been charged as would have been an Aboriginal person in the same circumstance. The racism just stinks.”
Rallies calling for equality before the law were held by Aboriginal communities State-wide last Thursday. Ms Mackay coordinated the Perth rally, at Forrest Chase, the heart of Perth’s commercial district.
“Our people turned out, not many others who should have did not, but our people, we who came, both grieved for those lost, and for the injustice of how non-Aboriginal peoples make us feel. We spoke of the injustices we face before authorities and the law. But what made me really sad was some of the faces in the passing lunchtime crowd, or who were doing their shopping – they just didn’t care. I could see the smirks on their faces, the disparagement, the sneers and more, it was a real low point.”
“I have been part of hundreds of rallies but I had never been to one or organised one where I saw such distaste for us and such terrible racism staring us back – it was bad Gerry, it was bad. There were moments I felt it so affected that tears streamed. Is this what my children have to face in the years that are ahead of them?”
On November 7, Geraldton’s Yamatji community will host a downtown rally – it will most certainly stir up the town, there is no doubt that more than a thousand people will turn out. Ms Capewell said, “These two young souls are gone from nearby their children, from their parents, from their friends, left us all but their spirits will remain with us and we will allow their spirits to nurture the calls for justice, for all our people to live in this country, equal among others. As Aboriginal peoples we just cannot continue with the way we are treated and downtrodden.”
“There is racism and only the blind and cowardly would say otherwise.”