Political leaders have failed to explain a sudden 64 percent increase of Indigenous arrests in Canberra over the last four years.
The numbers don’t lie. Over the last four years there has been a 35% increase in apprehensions of Indigenous people while there was a 1% decrease during that time for non-Indigenous people. Apprehensions include cautions, arrests and stopping people and searching people on the street.
When you break this data down and look only at the arrests, we find a 64% increase of Indigenous arrests compared to a 24% increase for non-Indigenous people in Canberra.
Indigenous leaders recently told the ABC that there are many Indigenous people in Canberra who feel like they are being targeted by police. Leo Nickels from the ACT Aboriginal legal service also spoke about strip searches happening on the side of the street. He mentioned that cautions instead of arrests were almost non-existent for Indigenous people.
This data points towards a change in policy or a new agenda to target Indigenous people but Minister Stephen-Smith claims that there is certainly no such policy of this kind.
As mentioned above, the numbers don’t lie and there is obviously a shift to target Indigenous people. A policy of this kind would never be written down but the numbers do suggest that Indigenous people are being targeted. This could be happening for a number of reasons.
Canberra is Australia’s capital city and is home to the Aboriginal tent embassy which has been a centre-point of Indigenous resistance for 45 years. Over those years, the embassy and the city itself has drawn in thousands of Indigenous activists as well as people looking for work. For various reasons some of them chose to stay. These figures may reflect a similar situation that has been happening in Cairns and Darwin. Councillors and the settler population of these towns are always working on ways to drive away the Indigenous population who have settled there from other regions.
Another reason for the recent differences in the rates of arrests between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people (as suggested by other news sources) is an underlying level of racism held by police officers. This results in non-Indigenous people receiving warnings whereas an Indigenous person would be arrested in a similar situation. But this underlying racism has always been around, it doesn’t explain the recent spike in numbers that started 4 years ago.
Something that did start four years ago was Tony Abbott’s reign as Prime Minister. Abbott made his intentions clear even before becoming prime minister with his comments about closing the Aboriginal Tent embassy that sparked protests in Canberra. Was there a directive from Tony Abbott to send a clear message that Aboriginals are not welcome in Canberra? Abbott did oversee the $500 million dollars of funding cuts towards Indigenous Australia.
What do you think has happened in Canberra? Police racism or a formulated plan to drive out Indigenous people from the national capital?