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Thousands take to the streets in national day of action against Indigenous deaths in custody

An Indigenous protester confronts police at the rally in Sydney. Photo: Allison Hore

By ALLISON HORE

Protests were held across the country on Saturday to mark three decades since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The national day of action called for justice for Indigenous people who have lost their lives in police custody. 

The royal commission, which ran between 1987 and 1991, made 339 recommendations but many have not been implemented fully or not received adequate funding since they were implemented. 

At least 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have died in custody in the 30 years since the commission concluded, including at least five since the beginning of March this year. Not one person has been charged in relation to these deaths. 

Protesters gathered in Town Hall in Sydney to mark 30 years since the royal commission. Photo: Allison Hore

Addressing the 1,500 strong crowd at Sydney’s Town Hall on Gadigal land, Leetona Dungay lamented the lack of justice for Indigenous victims. Ms. Dungay’s son, David Dungay Jr, died in Sydney’s Long Bay jail in 2015. She says “no-one has ever been held accountable” for her son’s death, or the many similar incidents.

“The royal commission didn’t get any justice for the families, not a single police officer or prison guard was charged or convicted,” she said. 

“The royal commission came up with some ideas to try and stop all the deaths in custody, and guess what? The white man, who ran all the governments all over Australia for 30 long years, refuses to follow those ideas and make proper changes.” 

Following the speeches at Town Hall, protesters marched up Park Street and along College Street towards the Domain. The group was led by family members of those who died carrying large placards with their names, faces and circumstances surrounding their deaths.

“Take a seat”

Protesters sat in the street for a minute’s silence near Hyde Park, to remember those whose lives have been lost. Organisers called on the police to “take a seat” and join protesters in the minute’s silence, however, police remained standing.  

As the march neared the Domain, the group of protesters stopped a number of times to shout out the names of those who have died. 

Protesters carried banners with the names and faces of those who died. Photo: Allison Hore

At the Domain, protesters heard from more family members of those whose lives were lost, including Nathan Reynolds. Mr. Reynolds died of an asthma attack in a NSW prison in 2018, just one week before he was due to be released. A coronial inquest found the medical response had been delayed and his death was preventable. 

In a statement read at the rally, his family said he and the others who have died were “more than just a statistic.” They believe if Mr. Reynolds, who had been receiving treatment for his asthma, was not in prison; he would still be alive today.

“Nathan was our brother, he was a son, a father, a nephew, and a grandson. He was deeply loved, losing him has left a hole in our lives and we miss him every single day,” the family said. 

“It is soul crushing knowing that at just 36 years old, Nathan died on a cold prison floor.”

The Sydney rally was just one of many across the country, with other large demonstrations being held in Melbourne, Brisbane and Alice Springs. 

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