One of the voices working to be heard against racial discrimination is emerging Gympie elder Russell Bennet.
One of the voices working to be heard against racial discrimination is emerging Gympie elder Russell Bennet.

Gympie indigenous community wade in on US protests

THE grief felt by the family and friends of George Floyd, the African-American musician who was killed after a police officer knelt on his neck for more than nine minutes, is also felt by the family of more than 432 indigenous Australians who have died in custody since 1991.

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But members of the Gympie indigenous community feel many families may never have justice for the custodial deaths of their kin.

“It’s been going on for years,” said emerging Gympie elder Russell Bennet.

Mr Bennet said he felt a mixture of outrage and sadness at the sometimes violent protests happening in the US due to Mr Floyd’s death.

“I was a bit annoyed at an Australian reporter over there who said we wouldn’t understand. It’s been happening here for years – it’s just not as publicised,” Mr Bennet said.

A peaceful protest was organised today at Cotton Tree as a way for Australians, indigenous or otherwise, to show their solidarity with the US and to highlight the 432 deaths and zero convictions in Australia.

Russell Bennet
Russell Bennet

Mr Bennet said protests, provided they remained peaceful, are a place to start to effect change and combat the bias some people feel against members of the indigenous community.

“So long as they remain peaceful. There’s no room for aggression, that won’t solve anything,” he said.

Butchulla and Kabi Kabi elder Aunty Lillian Burke said the events in the US, while heightening awareness of the discrimination faced by black US citizens, is upsetting because they echo events here in Australia.

Russell Bennet
Russell Bennet

“It’s upsetting but it’s been happening here for years and no one is taking any notice,” Aunty Lillian said.

She said in the past she had witnessed groups of indigenous Australians threatened by police officers in Brisbane, while they were peacefully sitting together in a public park.

“They cannot even sit in groups without the cops starting to harass them – just for sitting – and threatening them to move on,” she said.

“It’s like what happened to that kid in Sydney who had his leg broken,”Aunty Lillian said.

Both agree that there needs to be a fundament shift in how indigenous people are perceived by members of the police force and the non-indigenous community.

“The sooner we can all come together as one people the better,” Mr Bennet said.

“We’ve got a long way to go yet. The people need to ask themselves why nothing is being done about it (the in-custody deaths). It’s gone on for far too long,” Aunty Lillian said.

Russell Bennet
Russell Bennet