This week eleven Christian women were arrested after an act of non-violent direct action where they had occupied the office of a federal parliamentarian in protest relating to the continuing detention of hundreds of children that have been captured by Australia’s harsh policies for people seeking asylum here.
The women were arrested and read their rights, then issued with ‘move on’ notices for the offence of trespass, and advised that ‘powers higher up’ would take the decision about the next step. They were bussed to the Leederville train station and released. Nice and neat for the many police involved; most likely sidestepping the need for a day in court and all that that would involve.
It left me to wonder what would happen if eleven young Aboriginal men had staged the same non-violent direct action, in the same place, over the same issue? I do not think they would have received the same treatment.
We are a nation based on the rule of law. The trouble is that for far too long it has been also been a nation of injustice. In the absence of basic justice, laws have the potential to amount to little more than organized oppression. This is true for both the first Australians and those seeking refuge here.
When it comes to the use of excessive force, or deaths in custody, the police do not just constitute a special category, but a protected and important one. In this nation of laws (and mandatory sentencing/detention) those responsible for applying the law plainly operate above it.
Racial differences are so shamelessly displayed and denied that Australia risks foundering under the burden of its history, even as it seeks to celebrate its achievements in overcoming that history.
So those who misunderstand things as they occur as isolated incidents are doomed to misunderstand everything that flows from it.
‘A system cannot fail those it was never meant to protect’ wrote WEB Dubois.
The law has spoken to 11 Christian women; justice has yet to make itself heard. And institutional deafness in relation to protest around detention of children remains.