In Australia, human rights activists and the aboriginal community are demanding justice for the death of Julieka Dhu in police custody two years ago. Dhu’s death once again highlights the seemingly endless cases of police brutality against Blacks and non-Whites in many so-called liberal countries around the world.
On August 2, 2014, Dhu was arrested and detained by the police in Western Australia over unpaid fines, when she went to the station for a domestic violence incident.
At the time, officers did a cursory background check and found that she had defaulted on the payment of a fine of about $3,000. That fine put 22-year-old Dhu behind bars since Western Australia maintains the policy of imprisoning fine defaulters.
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Critics have denounced Western Australia’s policy of imprisoning fine defaulters. They have condemned the law for unfairly targeting and punishing the poor and vulnerable who are mostly native or aboriginal Australians. Ruth Barson, a lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, describes the law as retrogressive.
“If we look at Ms. Dhu’s example, she was somebody who was very poor, she was somebody who had absolutely no means to pay, and she was also someone in a domestic violence situation.
“So it is essentially not a fair and not a flexible system. It is an automatic system that doesn’t take into account why a number of people cannot pay their fine for very good reasons.”
Amy McQuire, an Aboriginal Australian journalist, told the Atlanta Black Star, “In Western Australia, Aboriginal women and women in general are incarcerated for failure to pay fines,” adding, “Why would a young Aboriginal woman call the police if she knows it [imprisonment] will happen to them?”
While in police custody, Dhu was reportedly treated worse than an animal; CCTV footage revealed her final moments, which showed police officers dragging her from her cell like a dead kangaroo.
An official inquest found the cause of death to be septicaemia and pneumonia due to an infection from broken ribs and blood filled lungs.
As she suffered from her injuries, police officers, however, continued to ignore her cries for help, dismissing it as an attempt to fake pain and disrupt police station operations. On two occasions, she was taken to the hospital in handcuffs, given a casual medical examination, and promptly returned to jail.
Ms. Julieka Dhu died from her injures on August 4, two days after she was arrested by the police.
In recent years, the United States has been rattled by multiple cases of extrajudicial killings by the police of African Americans and people of colour. In response, organizations like the Black Lives Matter Movement have continued to call for justice for the affected victims and push for an effective race dialogue to confront the suppressed and underlying issues surrounding race relations in 21st century America.
Australia. however, lacks a Black Lives Matter Movement, so often, cases of race-related police brutality easily go unnoticed and barely get any attention in the mainstream media. McQuire explains, “The media haven’t[sic] covered it [police brutality] much; they haven’t put it [in] prominence. You compare it to how they treat White victims. If it wasn’t for the family, we wouldn’t have heard about [Dhu’s death].”
See protests of Dhu’s death here: