“The system is continuing to fail Aboriginal people,” Ms Day’s eldest daughter, Belinda Day, said. “Look at what’s happening on your own back door.”
Ms Day, 55, was arrested for public drunkenness after falling asleep on a train to Melbourne and died after hitting her head in a police cell in Castlemaine in northern Victoria in 2017. A coroner has referred police, who didn’t notice her injuries for hours, for criminal investigation.
Ms Dhu, whose first name is not used for cultural reasons, was detained in Western Australia’s Pilbara region over unpaid fines in 2014.
The 22-year-old died in police custody after she suffered “unprofessional and inhumane” treatment from police and “deficient” treatment from hospital staff, a coroner found.
Two police are currently facing murder charges over two other deaths: those of Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke – fatally shot in Western Australia – and 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in the Northern Territory.
“It’s not a US problem,” Ms Dhu’s grandmother Carol Roe said. “Our people are being killed left, right and centre.
“I miss my granddaughter so much. We all still love her and we still haven’t got her justice.”
Both Tanya Day and Ms Dhu were detained for offences subject to recommendations in the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. The Victorian government has committed to abolishing the offence of public drunkenness. Western Australia tabled laws last year to reduce the jailing of people over unpaid fines.
The case of Ms Day’s uncle, Harrison Day, was one of 99 deaths in custody investigated in the 1991 inquiry. He died in 1982 from an epileptic seizure in an Echuca police cell after being arrested for an unpaid $10 fine for public drunkenness.
Aboriginal-led justice coalition Change the Record co-chair Cheryl Axleby said 432 Aboriginal people have died in custody since the royal commission.
“Its recommendations have largely been ignored,” Ms Axleby said.
“Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are dying in police and prison cells for two reasons – discriminatory policies which see us arrested at extraordinary rates, and the discriminatory treatment we are subjected to by police and correctional authorities. This must change.”
At the time of the royal commission, about 14 per cent of people in custody were Aboriginal. This has doubled to 28 per cent even though Aboriginal people make up 3 per cent of the population.
“Australia has a shameful record in its treatment of Indigenous people in custody,” Amnesty International’s national director Sam Klintworth said.
Melbourne’s rally, organised by the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, is to take place on the steps of Parliament House on Saturday.
Tammy Mills is the legal affairs reporter for The Age.