Aboriginal distrust of the police
Aborigines have a lot of contact with the police because they commit a lot of crimes. Those encounters often end up badly so there are calls for the police to "do something" about that.
They seem to overlook that they have in their own hands an excellent way to improve their relationships with the police: Stop committing crimes. Their high rate of criminality -- particularly among young Aborigines -- is bound to create dislike of them among the police and that will show, one way or another
"They don't like me, and I don't like them".
In one simple sentence, a young man laid bare his experience of the often fraught relationship between Indigenous children and police.
His words weren't said in a casual conversation on the street but in a courtroom — and that scathing statement is forming part of a high-profile coronial investigation.
Three years ago, when that young man was 17, he watched his two friends drown in front of him while they were all trying to escape from the police.
A group of youths ran into Perth's Swan River trying to outrun two police officers pursuing them after a nearby break and enter.
This week, that young man was forced to relive those traumatic moments for the coronial inquest into their deaths in Perth. His anger was palpable, his distrust of authorities clear.
The man, who for legal reasons was referred to only as "P", watched footage showing the police officers entering a powerful, wide stretch of the Swan River in a rescue attempt.
His response to the video of tactical response officers in the water was blunt: "He [the officer] could've gone in sooner."
The young man's words made it clear that he was unconvinced any police officer might try to save the life of someone from his community.
The coroner will eventually make recommendations about how to heal this relationship between the community and the police and ways to avoid such tragic deaths, but for the families involved it will never be enough.
If you can't understand that young man's anger and distrust, let me try to explain.
It's not just him, but his immediate circle and the broader Indigenous community who are angry that their people are still dying this way, despite decades-long calls for change.
In the past month alone, there have been several painful reminders for Indigenous Australians that reinforce their beliefs they can't always trust the state to keep them safe.
This month, there were three deaths in custody within weeks of each other, 30 years on from the royal commission that handed down 339 recommendations to stop this from happening.
Just months ago, tens of thousands of Australians took to the streets in Black Lives Matter protests, calling on the nation's leaders to change the record on Indigenous deaths in custody.
The most recent deaths were compounded by the bruising findings of a separate coronial inquest handed down this month into the 2018 death of Anaiwan-Dunghutti man Nathan Reynolds in a Sydney jail.
The coroner concluded that he died from an asthma attack but that the prison's health response was "confused, uncoordinated and unreasonably delayed."
Put simply, the state "deprived him of any chance at survival", the coroner said.
These recent deaths show us what lessons have been lost with the passing of time.
For years, the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody made national headlines, led news bulletins, exposed a nation's cultural and legal shortcomings.
The hope was that the findings in 1991 could heal the fractured relationship between the Indigenous community and the authorities they had learnt not to trust.
But recent weeks have shown that many of those lessons of honesty, transparency and accountability have faded, along with the hope of meaningful change.
Report after report investigates Indigenous over-incarceration, the causes and solutions repeated time after time — yet the situation does not improve and the community's trust erodes.
Since that royal commission, there's been an explosion in the number of Indigenous Australians locked up.
Back then they made up 14 per cent of prisoners, now it's almost 30 per cent.
Despite some moves to make prisons and police cells safer, there have been hundreds of Indigenous deaths in custody since that report was handed down three decades ago next month.
Two of the most recent deaths that happened in recent weeks were only made public under intense questioning in a parliamentary estimates session.
The New South Wales Corrective Services Commissioner Peter Severin defended the move to keep them private, but for the Indigenous community, the secrecy was salt in an old wound.
It was a reminder that after all these years the relationship hasn't changed.
Again, for the community, it was a reason not to trust; a reason to be angry.
'Soul-crushing' search for justice for families
Waiting for months or years to hear about the last moments of your loved ones has become a well-worn path for Indigenous families relying on the coronial process to deliver the truth.
The result can be "soul-crushing", according to Taleah Reynolds, who has lived through this harsh reality during the coronial inquest into her sibling's death.
Her 36-year-old brother Nathan died in his prison cell, just one week before he was expected to be released.
The coroner's report this month found "numerous system deficiencies and individual errors of judgment" contributed to the death and provided her family with little comfort.
"This can't just be treated as an accident — it must be recognised as a huge institutional failing and people must be held responsible," Ms Reynolds said outside court at the time.