In 2004, Mulrunji Doomadgee died in police custody on Palm Island. His death at police hands led to a riot in which the police station and government buildings were burned to the ground. Now, over two years later, the police officer responsible for Doomadgee's death has finally been charged with manslaughter. And from the details of the officer's vicious assault (quoted here from an essay in The Monthly), it seems entirely appropriate:
Roy was sitting in the station’s yellow chair when Chris Hurley dragged Cameron Doomadgee into the hallway. Roy heard [’Mulrunji’] say, “I am innocent, don’t lock … Why should you lock me up?”
Chris dragged him in and he laid him down here and started kicking him. All I could see [was] the elbow gone down, up and down, like that … “Do you want more, Mister, Mr [’Mulrunji’]? Do you want more of these, eh, do you want more? You had enough?”
Roy’s view was partially obscured by a filing cabinet, but he could see [’Mulrunji’]’s legs sticking out. He could see the fist coming down, then up, then down: “I see knuckle closed.” Each time the fist descended he heard [’Mulrunji’] groan.
Cameron, he started kicking around and [called] “leave me go,” like that, “now”. “Leave me go – I’ll get up and walk.”
But Roy says Hurley did not stop:
Well, he tall, he tall, he tall, you know … just see the elbow going up and him down like that, you know, must have punched him pretty hard, didn’t he? Well, he was a sober man, and he was a drunken man.
Doomadgee was then dragged into the cells. Moments later, Chris Hurley came back and Roy saw him rubbing his chin. Hurley had a button undone. “Did he give you a good one?” Roy asked. “A helluva good one,” Hurley apparently replied. Then Hurley asked Roy if he had seen anything. Roy said no, and Hurley told him to leave. Roy went to get his social security cheque, along the way telling some friends, “Chris Hurley getting into [’Mulrunji’].” They told him, “Go tell someone, tell the Justice Group.” But none of them did anything. They went on drinking.
The cell’s surveillance tape shows [’Mulrunji’] writhing on a concrete floor, trying to find a comfortable position in which to die. He can be heard calling, “Help Me!” Another man, paralytic with drink, feebly pats his head. Before he dies [’Mulrunji’] rolls closer to the man, perhaps for warmth or comfort. The camera is installed in a high corner, and, from this angle, when Hurley and another police officer walk in they look enormous. The officer kicks at [’Mulrunji’] a few times – later referred to as “an arousal technique” – then leans over him, realising he is dead. At 11.22 am Senior Sergeant Hurley called an ambulance. Three minutes later the ambulance arrived and paramedics determined that [’Mulrunji’] had been dead for at least twenty minutes. The tape records Hurley sliding down the cell wall with his head in his hands. [’Mulrunji’], it would turn out, had a black eye, four broken ribs and a liver almost cleaved in two. His injuries were so severe that even with instant medical attention he was unlikely to have survived.
Meanwhile, Queensland Police are outraged that one of their own could be facing charges, and threatening to strike. Apparently, they think that beating prisoners to death in the cells is part and parcel of the job, and that if the prosecution is successful, they'll have to stop doing it. Which is rather revealing of their attitude towards both the law, and the people they are supposed to be protecting.
Unfortunately, I don't have much faith that this will lead to justice. The Queensland Department of Public Prosecutions is simply not interested in holding the police to account - they originally refused to lay charges, and this decision has been taken only after a review by an out-of-state judge - so they are unlikely to put much effort into it in the courtroom. And of course the trial will be held in Brisbane, in front of an all-white jury, who are unlikely to care too much about the death of an aboriginal man. So, I expect the officer to be acquitted, and justice to be once again denied. But I hope to be pleasantly surprised.