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.