Mulrunji case not over

The acquittal of Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley on charges of manslaughter and assault leading to the death of Cameron Doomadgee (Mulrunji) does not resolve all the issues raised by this tragedy. I won’t comment on, or discuss, the trial itself. The jury has given its verdict and Hurley is entitled to treat it as conclusive.

The whole sequence of events shows failure by the Queensland state at every level.

First, there’s the huge problem of alcohol abuse in indigenous communities*: the government has made little headway on this, and doesn’t seem to have made much of an effort. The abolition of the Indigenous Affairs portfolio after the last election was not a good sign.

Then there’s the fact that Mulrunji should never have been arrested for what amounted to insolence. His objections to being arrested when doing nothing wrong appear to have caused the struggle that ended in his death.

The sequence of events leading to Mulrunji’s death would have been much clearer if there had been closed circuit cameras covering the whole watchhouse, a policy that was rejected quite flippantly by Police Minister Judy Spence before being conceded by Peter Beattie earlier this year.

The sequence of inquiries into Mulrunji’s death displayed the system at its worst. No one could have any confidence in the police inquiry that began with the investigators having drinks and a meal with the officer under investigation. The DPP inquiry, finding as a matter of fact that Mulrunji’s death was accidental (not merely that the cause could not be determined beyond reasonable doubt) was equally bad, and follows a pattern in which politically-connected defendants have received much more favorable treatment than those (such as Pauline Hanson and Diane Fingleton) who’ve incurred the wrath of the establishment.

Returning to the bigger problems, this kind of thing will keep on happening as long as indigenous communities suffer from high levels of unemployment and alcohol or drug abuse. This will need a big effort, and a willingness to look at what works rather than political dogma. Unfortunately, it seems more likely that the dogmas of the past, which produced a system built on passive welfare, are going to be replaced by a new set of dogmas based on neoliberal ideology (for example, inflated expectations about the effects of property ownership, and a refusal to countenance large-scale job creation).

* There are also problems with alcohol-related violence in the community more generally, but that would need another post.

28 thoughts on “Mulrunji case not over

  1. Razor, there is in fact a long history of informed study and debate on the issues of arrest powers for what you term ‘disrespect’. Obscene language has always been problematic as an offence, given that it is frequently used by police themselves, as well as politicians and union officials – thereby making its deployment arbitrary and discriminatory. Some years back I worked in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. As part of the Commission’s work we took possession of the Brisbane Watchhouse charge book. This contained, inter alia, brief particulars of the alleged offence of the arrested person. I well recall the particulars of one Aboriginal man, arrested in the public bar of the old Prince Consort Hotel (one of the few establishments to serve Aboriginal patrons) for the offence of saying “Who are you calling a black c***, copper?” Respect indeed.

    If the offence were to be seriously enforced, under cover police would hang around in public bars, building sites and football matches making thousands of arrests. Of course, that isn’t going to happen, and nor should it.

    If showing inadequate respect for a police officer is to be made an offence, you’d have to prescribe permissible and impermissible words of salutation – perhaps ‘sir’, or ‘officer’ would be to your taste? Perhaps not ‘constable’, given the potential for unfortunate stress on the first syllable? Since, however, senior police address their juniors with that title, we’d have to change the names of the ranks. I’m sure (irony alert!) this would encourage loads of respect for the legislators proposing it.

    Making ‘dumb insolence’ an offence didn’t even work for the British army in the First World War, so we can dispense with that.

    Respect, as others have noted, is a two-way street – a bit like loyalty. In law, all citizens are supposed to be equal and entitled to equal respect from public servants like police. However, a moment’s reflection will tell you the levels of respect we could anticipate a police officer affording a well-dressed person in a fancy motor vehicle in an upmarket suburb on the one hand and a shabbily clad person waiting for a train in a downmarket suburb on the other are poles apart.

    In my youth in the 1970s the Queensland Police behaved pretty much as you’d expect an army of occupation to behave. They’ve improved a lot since then, but they’ve still got a long way to go. Equipping them with the kinds of powers you seem to have in mind won’t help.

  2. #13 – depends who they are and the situation – some drunk on the street I’d give it straight back, my kids or employees would be made to understand that it wasn’t acceptable in no uncertain terms. If it was a drunk in the street and I was with my family or other vulnerable people I’d move on out of the situation and call the Police (and I have actually done that on a number of occaisions.

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