Australia's Black Lives Matter Protests Focus on How Indigenous People Face Discrimination

Australian police investigating cases related to defacing statues of British explorer James Cook, Tony Abbott, John Howard and Captain James Stirling

Started in the U.S., the Black Lives Matter protests have spread to different parts of the world and Australia on Saturday witnessed some groups in Brisbane and Melbourne staging protests in support of refugee rights. The Australian protests focused on reported deaths of more than 430 Indigenous Australians while in judicial or police custody since 1991.

The Community in Australia

According to the data released by the Australian Bureau of Statistics this month, 4.7 percent of all Indigenous men are in jail compared with just 0.3 percent of all non-Indigenous men. But the former Australian PM, Tony Abbott told the Sun Herald that there is "no evidence" that the justice system discriminates against Indigenous Australians, attributing disproportionate rates of imprisonment of Indigenous people to a "higher offending rate."

He said Australians "have our own atoning to do" but the "history nevertheless has been different and I would say better than that of the US". He then added that "Obviously" the Indigenous imprisonment rate is much higher than the general incarceration rate.

"That shouldn't be so unless there's evidence that courts are more likely to imprison Indigenous offenders than non-Indigenous offenders, and there is none," said Abbott.

Asutralia Protests
Protests in Australia focusing the treatment against indigenous Australians Twitter/ @teenactivist13

But there are widespread reports of over-policing of public order offenses in Indigenous communities in Australia, over-representation in charges for use of offensive language, and jail term for failure to pay fines.

On Friday, current PM of Australia Scott Morrison said Indigenous disadvantage was caused in part by social issues in remote communities including abuse, alcoholism, drug abuse, and sexual violence. He said even though it is heartbreaking, it is true. "You want to have an honest discussion about what's happening in communities, you can't ignore those facts either and it's chronic," he added.

Why the Rage Against James Cook Statue?

Meanwhile, authorities found that the statue of James Cook, captain of the first Western ship to reach the east coast of Australia, was defaced early on Sunday in Sydney.

The Australian police arrested two women, aged between 27 and 28, on College Street in the city center. The officers allegedly found several spray cans in a bag, carried by those women. Both the women charged with destroying or damaging property and possessing a graffiti implement and were refused bail to appear at Parramatta bail court later on Sunday, reports said.

James Cook
Statue of Captain Cook Twitter/ @ChrisCarmody4

James Cook, a British naval captain and explorer, who sailed the seaways and coasts of Canada and conducted three expeditions to the Pacific Ocean, ranging from the Antarctic ice fields to the Bering Strait and from the coasts of North America to Australia and New Zealand.

On April 19, 1770, he came upon the southeast coast of Australia and successfully navigated Queensland's Great Barrier Reef. While searching for Terra Australis, the hypothetical continent first posited in antiquity and which appeared on maps between the 15th and 18th centuries, he showed that it existed only in the landmasses of Australia, New Zealand, and whatever land might remain frozen beyond the ice rim of Antarctica.

Captain Cook was killed on February 14, 1779, by the natives of Hawaii during his third visit to the island and the situation between the Europeans and Hawaiians became extremely tensed ever since. A few days later, the Englishmen retaliated by firing their cannons and muskets at the shore, killing around 30 Hawaiians.

The Investigation of Defaced Statues

The recently defaced statue of Cook dates back to 1879 which was placed after he charted the east coast of Australia in 1770 holding a telescope. The statues of ex-PM Abbott and John Howard were also sprayed with red paint on Saturday morning.

During the protests in Australia, the statue of Captain James Stirling, a British naval officer and colonial administrator, in Perth, Western Australia was defaced on Friday. Police arrested a 30-year-old man, who was charged with criminal damage or destruction of property. As per the local reports, the statue's neck and hands were painted red and an Aboriginal flag was painted over the inscription at the base.

In Australia too, citizens have defied public health warnings amid the Coronavirus pandemic and turned out to protest Indigenous deaths in custody and to rally in support of the Black Lives Matter movement in Sydney, Perth, Darwin, Adelaide, and Melbourne.