The greatest failing of the Black Lives Matter movement in Australia, and a complete contradiction to their cause, is that it ignores the lives taken at the hands of other black people. It is also driven by the false claim that black deaths in custody are a result of systemic racism by allegedly murderous white police.
The fact remains for Aboriginal Australians, as it does for African-Americans, that far more black lives are taken by other black people than by white people, or by white police.
While this is an inconvenient truth for the Black Lives Matter movement it is a fact we must confront if we are to improve the lives of Aboriginal Australians in Australia. Unfortunately such movements favour emotional rhetoric over fact.
The rate of black on black homicide was outlined by African-American author Taleeb Starkes who made the comparison between black on black killings and killings carried out by the Ku Klux Klan against African-Americans. Starkes highlighted research from the African-American Tuskagee University and compared it to research conducted by the Unites States Bureau of Justice.
In his findings, he states that over an 86-year period, the Ku Klux Klan had abhorrently murdered 3,446 African-Americans; yet every six months in America roughly the same number of African-Americans are murdered by other African-Americans.
I once asked a Black Lives Matter member if these murders were of concern to the movement, but instead of an answer , the response was that I was ‘using the language of the oppressor’.
The 400-plus Aboriginal deaths in custody since the Royal Commission into Black Deaths in Custody report in 1991 has been a driving force behind the protests and has been reported widely by the media.
However, any insinuation that this means police are simply killing Aboriginal Australians and getting away with it is wrong. Such insinuations encourage racial division, ignore the truth and damage community relationships between police and vulnerable Aboriginal Australians.
The fact is that, of these deaths, almost half in police custody were accidental, mostly as a result of vehicle accident injuries, followed by natural causes and self-inflicted trauma.
For deaths in prison custody after being sentenced, most were due to natural causes, followed by suicide and other self-inflicted causes due to drugs and alcohol.
As reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology with data from the National Deaths in Custody Program, Indigenous people are now less likely than non-Indigenous people to die in prison custody. ‘Coinciding with this decrease in the death rate of Indigenous prisoners is a decrease in the hanging death rate of Indigenous prisoners. Monitoring trends and characteristics of both Indigenous and non-Indigenous deaths in custody supports the development of proactive strategies addressing this important issue.’
If black lives really did matter, the movement would focus its efforts on tackling black on black crime and reducing the numbers of Aboriginal people dying outside of custody.
Let’s compare the national rates of death due to Indigenous on Indigenous violence in Australia between the years 1989–2012 as reported by the Australian Institute of Criminology.
During this 23-year span, there were 1,096 homicide incidents involving at least one Indigenous person. There were 951 Aboriginal victims of homicide, more than double the 437 deaths that Black Lives Matter protestors are solely concerned with. Of the 951 Indigenous homicide victims, 765 were killed by an Indigenous offender.
Of the 7,599 Australian homicide offenders (Indigenous and non-Indigenous) over that time, 16 per cent – or 1,234 – were Indigenous, yet we are only 3 per cent of the Australian population.
It is not systemic racism that is killing black people in the United States or in Australia. In Australia and the US alike, the greater threat to a black person’s life is not a white police officer but another black person – and usually someone known to the victim.
The facts are clear. Yet Black Lives Matter, some media and some of our country’s leaders ignore these fundamental truths. This only perpetuates the ongoing carnage and maintains the high rates of Indigenous incarceration.
It’s time for some honesty in order to confront these uncomfortable truths.
Jacinta Nampijinpa Price is Director of the Indigenous Research Program at the Centre for Independent Studies, and an Alice Springs town councillor.