There she is, that mouthy girl. Fines owing. And look at her – bashed, not looking good. She’ll probably be better off in lock-up, she’ll get a feed.
5pm, August 2.
Click on the handcuffs, cold against her dark skin.
She’s another number today. Three grand’s worth of driving fines, and jeez she’s a difficult one. Get her health check done, she’s off her head, probably on drugs. Or just behaving like they do, you know, a lot of them have behavioural issues. You gotta be firm with them.
Fines, the last thing on her mind, between the beatings and the drugs and the fight for survival. And the lock-up door slams shut.
Typing up the file notes. She appears to be suffering withdrawals from drug use, not coping well with being in custody.
On the mattress, her burning skin hot against the blanket. Every breath drawn moves her fractured ribs, burns her lungs.
8am, 3 August.
Into the health campus for the second time, bright white lights. Pointing to ribs, pain is there. Pain is there. Her lips move and she makes words which don’t make sense through the fever and the pain and the fear.
No temperature taken, no x-ray carried out, no heartrate recorded. It is beating at 126 beats a minute against her fractured ribs. She is sent back to lock-up, two Panadol and a paper bag to breath into. ‘Behavioural gain’, they write.
Her heart beating like a trapped bird against her chest wall. Sobbing. Please take me back to the hospital. Please help.
She’s probably faking, you know what those young women are like. Attention seeking behaviour. Three times back to the hospital, yeah, well, we gotta do it. Pain in the arse.
7am, 4 August.
She can’t feel her legs. Hands are going blue, mouth is numb, what does that mean? The officer slips when she tries to pull her up by one arm, she falls and hits her head.
Vomiting, falling backwards, hitting her head on the concrete. The CCTV records it, faithfully. The officers do not. You checked her? Yeah, she’s going to have to go back. Jesus. Just get the Tojo ready, we can go down in half an hour.
The tape whirs. Wirla, the word for a bad feeling in the gut, the kind of feeling you get when you see a person and know something isn’t right.
12.33pm, 4 August.
Fall back against the mattress when they try to lift her. There are no wheelchairs, stretchers. They drag her along the floor, load her up. She’s moaning, we had to bloody drag her in here. Seriously. By the arms and legs. Moaning. She’s putting it on.
Dragging. Hands on burning ankles, grasping wrists roughly. Her head hangs back and her dark hair makes wings against the air. The doors slam shut. 500 metres. She cries out. Oh, shut up, the officer says.
She’s putting it on, pretending to faint. Get a wheelchair, put her in that.
And the blue sky dims to dark.
She’s faking it. Isn’t she? Oh, shit. Oh, shit.
1.39pm, 4 August.
With other women and anti-violence campaigners, we call for accountability and urgent changes to the systems that allow women to die in prisons, including systems that allow institutionalised racism, sexism and ableism to dictate levels of ‘care’ and access to justice.
We call upon the State Government to urgently review the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, now over 25 years old, and implement safeguarding measures, including strategies to prevent domestic violence victims being locked up for non-payment of fines.
We call upon the Federal Government to ensure that Aboriginal women, women with disability, trans women and women from other groups who are not traditionally included in government anti-violence policy to be strongly included in the National Plan for the Elimination of Violence against Women and their Children, with a specific focus on eliminating institutional violence and neglect and oppression based on ingrained cultural attitudes.
We call upon women’s groups, anti-violence campaigners and feminist groups to recognise the intersectional issues that women from those groups face and to highlight the multiple ways we are marginalised and the societal conditions that oppress us and prevent us from achieving clear pathways to safety from domestic violence.
We call upon Government to ensure that there is accountability for deaths in care and deaths in custody, including prison sentences and fines for failure of duty of care and to consider implementing legislation that will ensure clear sanctions, expectations and obligations upon those who have responsibility in the same way OHS legislation works.
We offer our solidarity to the family of Ms Dhu in their fight for justice and our respectful condolences for the loss of their beautiful girl.