"Justice is something that we are meant to believe will befall us eventually, if only we would just continue to hold out hope in the institutions responsible for the violence. Alternatively, we are told justice might arrive if we would just articulate more powerfully the tragedy of Black death; a justice only ever realised in the breadcrumbs of white benevolence."
It's hard to not be struck by the difference. As news broke of Derek Chauvin's conviction for the murder of George Floyd in the US state of Minnesota, the peak body for Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander legal services, NATSILS, tweeted this:
"With this news, our thoughts are with the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones. Not one officer or organisation has been held criminally liable for any of our 474+ deaths in custody since the Royal Commission."
With this news, our thoughts are with the families who are grieving the loss of their loved ones.— NATSILS (@NATSILS_) April 20, 2021
Not one officer or organisation has been held criminally liable for any of our 474+ deaths in custody since the Royal Commission.#BlackLivesMatterhttps://t.co/phYgqS7mhr
Australians tweeted in their thousands about the Chauvin conviction. The 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, not quite so much.
There is, says Chris Cunneen, professor of criminology at the University of Technology Sydney, a real lack of white political leadership around race in this country.
"We might compare it to 20 years ago in the aftermath of the Bringing Them Home report, with 200,000 people on the Harbour Bridge," he says.
"Despite all their faults, during the Hawke-Keating years [the government] took on Aboriginal issues over a sustained period of time - land rights, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, Bringing Them Home, which helped to generate and legitimise popular white support. Now it is OK to be a racist, a misogynist - in fact Parliament is full of them."
Yet he is perplexed by the lack of response from white Australians. Yes, it is true that in the United States, there was already a solid level of political organisation around race and violence compared to here in Australia.
"But that doesn't explain why white people don't get worked up about it. It might be tempting to say it is the depths of racism in this country. but the US is hardly the bastion of racial tolerance," he says.
As Chelsea Watego, senior research fellow at the University of Queensland, says: "We can feel our betrayal. There is silence from the Prime Minister over Black deaths in custody, but he sheds tears for soldiers returning home. Black familes are still trying to secure a meeting with him."
She says Australians find it easier to look overseas.
"There is a strong resistance in this country to attending to racism here and we see that on sporting fields - for example, Adam Goodes."
Watego says this nation is founded on racism, and there is an idea that Indigenous people don't exist.
Heartbreakingly, she argues: "This is why Black deaths don't shock settlers. We were always destined to die out, according to them."
And as she points out, white people imagine there is justice in getting statements from coroners' courts.
"There is no justice in holding someone accountable after they have killed. We want justice for the living," she says.
As for the current government position, Watego says it is government policy for kids to go to school, for parents to go to work and to create safe communities.
"But Closing the Gap at present is an annual stocktake of death and failure - it hasn't resulted in innovation, change or justice for Indigenous people."
So if we can't rely on white leadership or white government policies to at least assist in addressing inequality, what's possible?
Hannah McGlade, a human rights lawyer, academic and member of the UN Permanent Forum for Indigenous Peoples, says Australia has not had a proper race relations history. She says America went to war on slavery, and as a country is still dealing with its consequences. Biden, says McGlade, is showing amazing leadership.
But in Australia, she says, the reconciliation movement is not as alive as it should be.
"We know there is a movement of non-Aboriginal people who are caring and concerned about Aboriginal lives, and they have turned up at rallies," she says.
"But we also have people who do not think Black deaths in custody is their problem, and that is a reflection of our state of affairs and the lack of leadership from government."
This theme, the lack of leadership from the government, comes up a lot.
"Our government ... is more oppressive in many ways. People's fundamental liberties, human rights and Aboriginal rights are being denied."
By leaders, but also by ordinary citizens who don't engage with Black deaths in custody in the way they might engage with police murders of Black Americans.
Larissa Behrendt, a scholar, documentary maker and author, believes Australian Black deaths in custody challlenges Australians to think about colonial structures.
"And if they thought deeply about Black deaths in custody, they would have to challenge their own complicity in their systems," she says.
She's right about that. It is easier to put the mirror up to someone else, rather than holding the mirror up to ourselves.
She reminds me of the horrifying death of David Dungay, a Dunghutti man from Kempsey, in Sydney's Long Bay jail in December 2015. Prison guards held him face down and then injected him with a sedative. 12 times, he said he could not breathe.
"His death was a point when Australians did start to realise, did start to hold a mirror up to themselves," says Behrendt.
That was the motivation for more Australians than ever to turn out for Black Lives Matter protests last year, despite COVID-19 restrictions.
There is more we can do than turn out for rallies. It is also our responsibility to hold our leaders accountable.
We haven't yet elected a Barack Obama. We haven't yet had a leader who can say, as Obama did on Wednesday: "True justice requires that we come to terms with the fact that Black Americans are treated differently, every day. It requires us to recognise that millions of our friends, family, and fellow citizens live in fear that their next encounter with law enforcement could be their last."
- Jenna Price is a visiting fellow at the Australian National University and a regular columnist.