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Targeting police will do little to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody

Aboriginal people are too often the victims of racist and brutal policing. And yes, the way police treat Aboriginal children (and adults) needs to change. But the complete elimination of racist policing would do little to reduce the number of Aboriginal Australians in prison custody and the number who die there.

Police treatment of Aboriginal people and Aboriginal over-representation in prison are two distinct issues requiring different responses. The former requires change in the behaviour of police. The latter requires an Aboriginal-led government-supported effort to improve Indigenous outcomes in child welfare, health, education and employment.

Hundreds of people protest in Sydney on June 6 against the deaths of more than 400 Indigenous Australians in custody.

Hundreds of people protest in Sydney on June 6 against the deaths of more than 400 Indigenous Australians in custody.Credit:James Brickwood

Sixty-three per cent of Aboriginal people in prison are there for violent offences. The primary victims of this violence are Aboriginal women and children. The violence is a product of a chain of events that starts with colonisation and dispossession and stretches forward in time through trauma, loss of purpose, child neglect, substance abuse, depression, poor school performance and unemployment.

There should be no surprise in this. You can’t invade a country, drive the original inhabitants off their land, destroy their way of life, pass on your diseases, herd them into camps or on to islands, forcibly remove their children and expect this to have no long-term adverse effects.

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