Look at the two faces in the picture above. They are both dead Australians. But we only care about one of them.
The picture on the left is Justine Damond, a beautiful white Australian woman who was senselessly gunned down by a Minneapolis police officer responding to her 911 call about what sounded like an assault happening in the alley behind her house. Justine was unarmed and in her pajamas at the time she was killed.
The Australian media went nuts. The story was carried by every major news source. Analysis about what happened and why it happened was everywhere.
Australian Journalists descended on Minneapolis. The subsequent street march, the resignation of the police chief, the protests against the mayor, were all reported on at length. Pictures of the blond victim appeared on TV, in newspapers and media sites for days. Reports about her family, her boyfriend, and plans to bring her body home to Australia were filed.
It was a big news story.
The picture on the right is Elijah Doughty, a 14-year-old boy from Kalgoorlie, Western Australia. During exactly the same week the Justine Damond story was front and center in our newscasts, the man who chased, ran down and killed the Aboriginal teenager was given a paltry three-year sentence and the media barely reported it.
There was just no interest in the general public.
No pictures of the 14-year-old victim plastered on every news broadcast.
Don’t let anyone tell you Australia is not a deeply racist country.
Even though he had been charged with manslaughter, the 56-year-old perpetrator was found guilty of the lesser charge of dangerous driving occasioning death. Because he has already served 11 months, he could be out as early as January.
What has since come to light is that Kalgoorlie is a town gripped by a culture of division, fury, hatred and out-and-out racism.
Prior to Elijah’s death, the town’s two main Facebook community pages were filled with comments about a recent spate of motorbike thefts. Those commenting were in no doubt that the thieves were all indigenous young people (referred to as “darkies” by some of those commenting). Their anger toward the Aboriginal community was palpable. Here are some of their comments:
“There is going to be revenge of some sort very soon! And all the do gooders will wonder why people are getting pissed off.”
“How many human bodies would it take to fill the mineshafts around Kalgoorlie? A: We’re one theft closer to finding out!”
“Feel free to run the oxygen thieves off the road if you see them.”
“Everyone talks about hunting down these sub human mutts, but no one ever does.”
Well, someone did. The man charged with Elijah Doughty’s murder suspected the teenager of stealing the bike he was riding and took off after him. He has admitted to driving erratically in his pursuit of the boy, although he claims he didn’t intend to hurt him. Regardless, his Nissan Navara drove over the top of Elijah, severing his spinal cord at the base of his skull, killing him instantly and crushing the bike, which it turned out was stolen.
Some of the townsfolk of Kalgoorlie weren’t shocked by this. They were delighted. One commented on the town’s Facebook page, “Good job you thieving bastard. Don’t think you’ll be touching another bike anytime soon ahaha. About time someone took it into their own hands hope it happens again.”
Why are we shocked and outraged about the senseless killing of a white woman, but not similarly disturbed by the equally senseless death of a black kid?
And why is there not widespread revulsion at the deep-seated racism in a town like Kalgoorlie that it appears was bound to result in the death of an indigenous person?
It seems Australians know so much more about the deaths of black men in the USA and the subsequent riots in Ferguson and other places than they do about the unguarded racism in their own country. We can pontificate about the pros and cons of the Black Lives Matter movement in America, while remaining almost completely ignorant about racism in our backyard.
I received a phone call from an indigenous leader this morning. She was angry. She wonders why white Australians have so little interest in what’s happening to the original inhabitants of this land. She’s an older woman now and I guess she’s wondering whether all her agitation and activism all these years have changed things very much at all.
If the issue was only the need for justice for Elijah Doughty, she would have every right to be despondent. But the fact that there has been so little interest in the case by mainstream society must be absolutely crushing to her and other First Nations people of this land.