Police Treatment Of Aboriginal Teen ‘Disturbing’, Writes Mitch Tambo

The recent incident of a 17-year-old Aboriginal teenager’s legs being kicked from under him by a police officer left me upset. I could not believe that days after George Floyd was killed at the hands of police, an Australian young person would face this kind of treatment, which was also captured on camera. 

I’m not condoning the inappropriate language the teenager used. But at the same time, when we look at what’s currently happening in the world, the unnecessary brutal handling of this young person by police just reinforces the dominant discourse that minorities and people of colour are constantly at the mercy of the authorities.

It was really disturbing and disheartening to see a video of a police officer kick the legs out from under the teen, who I am sure was grappling with a lot of different emotions. This is a time when the whole world is protesting against injustices, meanwhile there is still the over incarceration of Aboriginal people, deaths in custody and constant mistreatment in our own country.

Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people in the world.

Despite making up about 2% of Australia’s population, they account for 28% of the adult prison population.

I’ve seen comments online that the teen was in the wrong so who cares. Yes, he was mouthy and was acting out, but if that was your teenager getting slammed into cement, I feel any of us would think differently. You could hear him squealing in absolute agony.  Thankfully, he was not more seriously injuredwhen you see the sheer force used.

While I completely appreciate the complex situations our law enforcement officers find themselves in on a daily basis, on this occasion, I feel the officer went too far.  This is a person who is trained with the skills to appropriately and safely restrain a young person who is a risk to themselves or others. If this officer isn’t able to diffuse the situation calmly and restrain the young person in an appropriate and safe manner, then he should not be employed as a police officer. 

The fact is, trans-generational trauma is very real and has been passed on from Aboriginal generation to generation. Our people have a very long history when it comes to police incarceration and the court system. Many of us are still carrying that trauma, still affected by what they’ve experienced or what others in their families or communities have told them. 

Aboriginal people are regularly subjected to racial hatred and victimisation as Australian society has been conditioned to look down on First Nations since the invasion of the Western settlers. Every time they hear statistics, read about someone like George Floyd, or see hateful comments on social media this perception is reinforced. 

I have worked in numerous settings with at-risk Aboriginal youth, where I have heard many heart-wrenching stories of young people threatened or inappropriately treated by police. Only last week it happened to someone in my own family. 

My teenage nephew was followed down the street by a police car for no reason after he’d just finished shopping at a supermarket. He got scared so hid in an alleyway until police lost sight of him. He asked me whether it was because he might have looked “gangster”. 

I replied, “No, you just look like any other youth in a Nike sweatshirt.” I suggested that he might have looked similar to someone they had their sights on. His sad response was, “Yeah, just like every other Black kid, eh?.” These kids are already aware of what others think of them – they don’t need to constantly get the message that the police are against them.

Lack of compassion from those in authority such as police officers is an ongoing issue. While I know many officers who are doing a remarkable job, there’s also a portion whose treatment of people change due to ethnicity. 

At the end of last year, I was fortunate to speak and engage with Aboriginal workers at the NSW Police Academy. Many of these employees know there’s a gap in the system and are committed to making a positive change for Aboriginal people and the wider community.  However there also needs to be more training and positive and meaningful conversations between the police and the Aboriginal community to develop further understanding and compassion. When it comes the Aboriginal community, a lot of our people don’t need to be attacked or locked up. They need to be empowered and given the tools to navigate our thwarted system. 

I feel the wider community needs to educate and empower. Education needs to start in the home.  Parents need to teach their children from a young age to love unconditionally. We need to discuss our history and implement change to create a brighter future. 

I recently released my latest single LOVE and the timing of that can’t be underestimated. I sing the song in Gamilaraay – my traditional Aboriginal language. The whole message is one of love, unity and acceptance, no matter what race, gender or religion you are. If the police and everyone in general could embrace this message more, we could actually create an amazing foundation for our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth, all Australian youth. Everyone needs to feel confident that they are safe to walk the streets.

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