If application accepted, Tanya Day’s case will be first time in Australia that systemic racism has been considered as a contributing factor to a death in custody
The family of an Aboriginal woman who died in custody in Victoria have applied for the coroner to consider systemic racism as a factor in her death.
If Victorian deputy state coroner Caitlin English accepts their application, it will be the first time in Australia that systemic racism has been considered as a possible contributing factor to a death in custody.
Yorta Yorta woman Tanya Day, 55, died in hospital on 22 December, 2017, two weeks after she was taken off a V/Line train from Echuca to Melbourne, arrested for public drunkenness and taken to Castlemaine police station. The autopsy suggested the cause of her death was a head injury sustained when she fell in the cell.
Police did not see the fall and did not physically check on Day for at least three hours.
CCTV footage of the cell will be shown at the inquest but CCTV of other areas of the station showing what police were doing when not checking on Day was deleted by investigating police.
At a hearing at the Melbourne coroners court on Tuesday, lawyers for Day’s family argued that the coroner should consider whether decisions made by police, V/Line officers and paramedics that led to Day going from “being asleep in the train to dying from a fatal injury sustained in police custody” were influenced by systemic racism.
They presented data compiled by the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC) which showed that at the time of Tanya Day’s death, Indigenous women were arrested for public drunkenness at 10 times the rate of non-Indigenous people.
Lawyer for the family Emrys Nekvapil said it was necessary for the court to specifically look at and for the impact of systemic racism because it was often not recognised.
“What we are asking you to investigate is a thing that is deadly and all the more dangerous because it is almost invisible to the people it doesn’t kill,” Nekvapil said.
Nekvapil said the family was “not asking for a royal commission into the systemic failures” that created an environment of systemic racism, only to look at the specific ways it applied in this case.
“It is critical if we are to see unwitting and, in this case, systemic racism … that we listen to the communities affected by it.”
In this case, he said, those affected were Day’s children, who identified the issue in their first statements to the court.
He read from a statement of one of Day’s daughters, Apryl Watson, who said: “I do believe that she would have been treated differently if she was white.”
The application was supported by the Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commission, which argued that the coroners court was bound by the Victorian Charter of Human Rights and Responsibilities Act 2006 to investigate allegations of racism and unequal treatment when raised.
However Victoria police argued it was “not a good case” to examine the issue of systemic racism because there was no evidence she was treated differently “because of her particular features”, and argued that to the extent she may have been discriminated against, the term “indirect discrimination on the basis of race” was preferred to “systemic racism”.
Day’s children, led by her eldest daughter Belinda Stevens, said that Day’s Aboriginality “most certainly contributed to the adverse treatment that she received”.
Stevens repeated calls for the Victorian government to repeal laws around public drunkenness, which was a preliminary recommendation made by English in December. The Andrews government has said it won’t commit to a change while the matter was still before the court.
HRLC legal director Ruth Barson said that if Day had been a non-Indigenous person travelling home drunk from the Melbourne Cup, she would not have been arrested.
“Most Victorians have committed the offence of public drunkenness,” Barson said.
English will provide her decision on the application next month.
source: the guardian
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