Last Saturday night, a young Warlpiri man was dragged from his bed and shot in his own home in Yuendumu, a central desert community in the Northern Territory around 4.5 hours north-west of Alice Springs. Yesterday, the nation rose up and demanded justice for the murder of Kumanjayi Walker in his own home by a police officer.
A National Call to Action over the weekend quickly led to a number of prominent protests around the country on Wednesday, one of which happened at Sydney’s Town Hall at 5:30pm. The protest was held to stand in solidarity with Yuendumu and demand justice for Aboriginal lives taken at the hands of police and state intervention. Through these protests, the Warlpiri community have demanded an independent investigation into Walker’s murder and the mishandling of the case by the police. The relatives of Walker’s were not informed that Walker had died until Sunday morning. They were also denied from saying their cultural goodbyes, as the police refused access to the body.
The Warlpiri community in Yuendumu have announced that they “want them [the police] gone.” This comes after official statements made by NT police, alleging that Walker had stabbed a police officer, were found to be at odds with the testaments of eyewitnesses in Yuendumu community, who have said that Walker was not armed and did not attack the police when they raided his home.
The protestors gathered on the steps of Town Hall, where a number of a prominent First Nations activists spoke out on the tragedy before they began to march. The speeches were condemning and passionate, calling out police brutality and the systematic injustices that lead to First Nations deaths in custody.
“This is continuous and cultural genocide,” said Wongutha-Yamatji man and actor Meyne Wyatt. “Our people are dying.”
“The police must not be investigating themselves. The Warlpiri have issued their statement for an independent investigation,” said Wiradjuri-Wailwan woman and lawyer Teela Reid. “The Warlpiri want answers. The Warlpiri are waiting for answers. They must dictate this process, and it must be done by their cultural authority, on their terms.”
As Reid went on to point out, “The Warlpiri speak for themselves. We are here to amplify their voices.” Indigenous activists Gavin Stanbrook and Nessa Turnbull-Roberts read out a number of official statements from the grieving Warlpiri community during the course of the contingent.
“They were saying he had a weapon. There was no weapon at all. It was a funeral day [for Walker’s uncle] too.”
Notably, one of the statements came from one of Walker’s aunties, Senita Granites Naparngardi, who lived next door to him.
“I was relaxed at home and I see my nephew walking along,” she said. “He looked happy, and I was just looking at him… 30 minutes later I heard the gunshots… I saw them drag him by the leg and chucked him in the paddy wagon. He wasn’t even moving when he was dragged out from the house by the leg. He wasn’t even carried.
“I wake up in the night. I can’t sleep. Everyone here in Yuendumu couldn’t sleep, cause of what the police done to us.”
There was a heavy police presence throughout the evening, actively directing the march. Police loomed over speakers outside Surry Hills Police Station, not allowing them to use red paint to place hand prints on the station, as has been done at the Yuendumu and Alice Springs police stations.
Many of the organisers and speakers thanked the protestors for turning up. To the gathered protestors, Wyatt said, “I am so heartened and pleased to see Indigenous brothers and sisters and non-Indigenous brothers and sisters. You give me strength, but we need more. We can’t afford complacency anymore because our people are dying.”
Warlpiri elders have also encouraged young people to use social media to share the truth of Walker, in order to achieve the justice that they want.
Walker’s death is the second First Nations death as a result of police brutality in two months. As the protest began to disperse, a cheer rang out in the crowd as news broke that the police officer who shot Walker had been charged with one count of murder.
This is only the second time a police officer has been charged with murder of a First Nations person, the first case, in 2004, being quashed.
While the charge is an historically important first step, there is more still to be done.
Walker’s family have called for an independent inquiry into the shooting and subsequent actions taken by police officers. The officer in question has since been granted bail with pay and will appear in an Alice Springs court on December 19.
He will reportedly be “vigorously defending the charge” against him, according to NT Police Association president Paul McCue.