Beacons for Black Change or Changes of White Beacons

[by Stephen Hagan]

Not a rent-a-crowd: Dr Stephen Hagan (pictured 2nd from right) with Marcia Langton, Joyce Hall, Monty Prior and Clarrie Grogan in the front line of an anti-uranium protest march in Melbourne March 31, 1978. Image: supplied  

Despite the Black Lives Matter (BLM) campaign garnering universal support in calls for justice against white police officers who took the life of an African-American in Minneapolis two weeks ago, we still had, from left field, opportunistic dissenting black voices striving for media relevance in both America and Australia.

In the United States, the first black Republican elected to the Arizona Legislature, Walter Blackman, speaking to AZCentral, said the brutal death of George Floyd – who died after having the offending principal police officer, Derek Chauvin, kneel on his throat for almost nine minutes in Minneapolis – was “no saint” and “invested in crime”. Blackman doubled down on those provocative comments with words of empathy for men in blue: “Fifty-eight police officers were killed in the line of duty last year alone … Why don’t you have those numbers?”.

In a similar vein, proud Donald Trump supporter, Candace Owen, controversial African-American conservative commentator, reported in The Independent, described George Floyd as a symbol of a “broken culture in black America today” and insists that “he was not a good person”. Owen commented she had been left “sickened” by the “fact that he [Mr Floyd] has been held up as a martyr” in reference to his five stints in jail.

Both Blackman and Owen have history in speaking out against black disadvantage, with Owen being referred to as the darling of the right-wing because of her willingness to demean her own people.

Similarly in Australia, two controversial First Nations conservative commentators, with form on their side in publicly disparaging their mob, Dr Anthony Dillon and Jacinta Price, have made themselves the subject of derision by stunned Indigenous leaders for their inflammatory opinion pieces in the past week.

Dillon, a lecturer at the Australian Catholic University, in his June 7 news.com.au article called protesters at the BLM rallies around the nation ‘rent-a-crowd’ supporters. I’m not sure where he came up with that flowery descriptor for the professionally and ethnically diverse crowds who turned out in unprecedented numbers at national protests.  

Dillon ran the line that “Aboriginal Australians in custody are less likely to die than non-Aboriginal Australians in custody”. He appeased that statement adding: “With just over one-quarter (27 per cent) of prisoners in custody being Indigenous, and 17 per cent of deaths in custody being Indigenous, Indigenous prisoners were under-represented.”

I wonder if Dillon’s views on BLM would alter if he sat down and heard the torment in the voice of Leetona Dungay, mother of David Dungay Jr who died in Long Bay prison in December 2015. David was restrained in his Long Bay cell by five Immediate Action Team (IAT) prison officers in a prone position, facedown and on CCTV footage could be heard 12 times appealing “I can’t breathe”. The crime that initiated such fatal action by IAT, was eating a packet of biscuits in his cell.

George Floyd died appealing “I can’t breathe” over a $20 counterfeit note and David Dungay for an everyday treat valued under $5. I’m flabbergasted how anyone could not be moved by the shocking similarities in proportional use of force for the offences committed in these cases.

The director of Indigenous research at the Centre for Independent Studies, Jacinta Price, in a Daily Telegraph June 9 opinion piece, said the protests fail to acknowledge the true factors contributing to Aboriginal deaths.  

Price, like Dillon, emphasised findings of the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody to support her criticism of BLM protesters.

Price also conveniently refers to unsourced 2018 data to justify her stance that reveals in the NT alone 85 per cent (4355) of Aboriginal victims knew their offender. Half of which were victimised by their partners. Aboriginal women made up 88 per cent (2075) of those victims.

The inference from those shocking statistics fails to disclose whether the partners of the abused Aboriginal women were Indigenous men or non-Indigenous men.

It is far too simplistic for Price to cherry pick data to shape a narrative denouncing BLM protests broadly and Indigenous men specifically.

I’ve been in a few demonstrations with then record-breaking numbers including in Melbourne at age 18 at an Anti-Uranium protest march on March 31, 1978; in Brisbane at a Commonwealth Games Aboriginal protest march on September 26, 1982; and Sydney at the Bicentenary Aboriginal protest march on January 26, 1988, to mention a few. I never considered myself as being part of a rent-a-crowd nor do I believe the tens of thousands of other concerned citizens exercising their democratic rights whom I marched alongside considered they were part of a general ring-around scheme to make up numbers on the day.

With more BLM protests planned this weekend – one in Darwin that I’ll participate in with family – I anticipate more left field opportunistic dissenting black voices striving for media relevance to emerge.

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