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Showing off my scars #1

05/05/2013

My years as a criminal justice activist were among the best of  my life (so far?).

Not only was I in the incredibly privileged position of being able to fight for something I actually believed in but I learned a lot, made some good friends, did a few things I’ll always be proud of, met a lot of truly extraordinary people and had a whole load of fun along the way.

But there were two challenges I faced that were more than I could handle.
Took on too much. Got in too deep.
And though I still wouldn’t have missed the experiences they gave me, they left huge undigested lumps in my psychic gut that trouble me to this day.

The first one was sex offending.
Working with offenders, victims, other affected people, forensic psychologists (yuk!) and prison authorities on a crime that is just about impossible to look at squarely from any perspective.
I’ve alluded to some of that stuff in earlier posts and will doubtless return to it in later ones.
But I don’t feel like writing about that now.

My other nemesis was deaths in custody.

Did you know than in Australia, as in the UK, police and prison officers are never convicted of unlawful killing while on duty.
Ever.
Without exception.
Even in the most blatant cases of out and out murder.
No murder convictions. No manslaughters. None for negligent homicide.
Not one.

And its not like there is one broken, corrupted part of the criminal justice system that is letting all those blue murderers off the hook.
Its the whole system.
From police investigating police to coroners botching inquests to DPPs no-billing for no discernible reason to seasoned prosecutors becoming suddenly inept to rigged juries misinstructed by incompetent judges.
Then the media will (usually) decline to raise an outcry and even ‘radical, progressive’ politicians will allow themselves to be cowed into silence.

Of course an injustice of that scale really rankles me.
I hate to see them getting away with that shit.
Over and over again.

And of course it makes a joke of the whole criminal justice system and everyone who plays a part in it.

Michael Kirby retires from the bench to effusive praise from ‘liberal’ lawyers for his career as a judicial dissenter.
Nicholas Cowdery finishes his term as NSW DPP, smug in the glow of his reputation as a reformer.
And for their whole careers both presided over and participated in this enormous serial crime.
And said nothing.

But its not all the killer cops and screws let off and often promoted that crushed me.
And its not the conspiracy of bureaucrats and legal officials who ensured they went free that did me in.
Its the families.

My only defences against such mammoth injustice and tragedy are cynicism and black humour.
And how can you use those in front of the families?

They’re the people who suffer the unexpected violent loss of their son, brother, father or partner often followed by a media smear campaign of the victim as the police release dishonest, disparaging ‘tips’ to their pet reporters.
Then the slowly dawning realisation that a cover up is being carried out and they will never see justice for their dead loved one.

They are invariably from a low socioeconomic class, usually from a minority group, rarely having had extended contact with the criminal justice system before, often conservative, conventional, church going.
Few have ever had reason to seriously doubt the functioning of our police and courts and they will spend months or years in stunned disbelief over what has happened to them.

Some, like the late, great Lettie Scott Nupanunga, dedicate their lives to fighting for justice for their lost loved one.
Others eventually curl up around their pain and sort of fade back into a shadow of their former lives.
Maybe some eventually find peace, but none ever find justice.
Lost loved ones. Lost faith in truth. Lost faith in authorities. Democracy.  Justice. The whole goddamned universe.

What can you do?
You stand by them, offer sympathy and advice, plug them into whatever legal and social resources you can find for them and try desperately not to infect them with your own sense of hopelessness.
Because pretty soon they’re gonna have all the hopelessness they can handle and then some.

And then another dark skinned kid is shot at a police stop or a beaten up prisoner cut down from a noose.
And it all starts again.
Until eventually you can’t start again.
And so you walk away.
Abandoning them.

But here’s where I would like to pay my respect to a friend, former colleague and truly amazing human being.
The one who didn’t abandon them.

Ray Jackson is a Wiradjuri elder and warrior.
For decades he has stood shoulder to shoulder with the families of those who have died in police or prison custody.
Stood with them, fought alongside them, wept with them.
So much sorry business.

After hundreds of lost battles in a war that won’t be won in his lifetime Ray still stands tall and throws himself as ferociously into the fray now as he did when he was a young man.
But with the infinite compassion and sensitivity that comes from years of suffering.

I know that the spirit of the great carradhy warrior Pemulway lives today.
I’ve seen it in the heart of Ray Jackson of the Indigenous Social Justice Association.

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From → autobiography, cops, hurts

3 Comments
  1. Rexie permalink

    My heart wilted and drooped like a flower reading this. So much of manufactured misery as if there isn’t enough as is!

    Like

  2. “Did you know than in Australia, as in the UK, police and prison officers are never convicted of unlawful killing while on duty.” Looks like this is pretty much true as well in our U.S. of A., from Ferguson to Baltimore… Keep fighting the good fight and writing the good rights, as far as that goes too! Best wishes. Pam

    Like

  3. You expessed this so well. As an environmental activist I also experienced the ass of the law. It’s hard to keep up the momentum but not as hard as it is for the consequences of the brutal actions that destroy forests and peoples’ lives. Thanks for this articulate post.

    Like

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