Law enforcement officers pinned down a man as he desperately told them – 12 times – that he couldn’t breathe. He would later die in custody, and footage of his death would spark furious protests and calls for justice. The setting of his death is not a Minneapolis street in May 2020, though the circumstances bear a striking resemblance to the murder of black American man George Floyd. He was killed when former police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into his neck for more than nine minutes.
George Floyd was murdered after the guilty verdict was announced.” src=”https://sl.sbs.com.au/public/image/file/954aa0a2-a521-4994-9f86-a835d5125cbf” alt=”A crowd gathers next to the spot where George Floyd was murdered after the guilty verdict was announced.” width=”700″ height=”467″ />
In Sydney’s Long Bay jail in 2015, the man is David Dungay Jr, a 26-year-old Dunghutti man from Kempsey who was held to the ground after allegedly refusing to stop eating biscuits.
Like Mr. Dungay, Mr. Floyd repeatedly told the officers he couldn’t breathe, the horrific ordeal videoed on a mobile phone and sent around the world.
US President Joe Biden said the ruling could be a “giant step forward towards justice in America” while vowing to do more to end systemic racism, which he described as a “stain on our nation’s soul”.
Vice-president Kamala Harris promised the family that Mr. Floyd’s death would not be in vain.
Meanwhile, more than five years after his death, the family of Mr. Dungay says they are still fighting for justice. In November 2019, a coronial inquest found that no five guards who restrained Mr. Dungay should face disciplinary action. “I feel very happy for the [Floyd] family, they’ve got justice, and they’ve fought really hard to get where they are today,” Mr. Dungay’s mother, Leetonia Dungay, told SBS News.
“We have seen some kind of justice in the USA; when will we see justice in Australia?”
A global wave of protests
In the months after Mr. Floyd’s death, as Black Lives Matter protests spread worldwide, Australian activists turned their attention inwards.
While Indigenous advocates acknowledged a shared struggle for racial justice with black activists in the US, they focused on Australia’s own bloody history.
Tens of thousands of Australians marched as part of Black Lives Matter protests in June, despite attempts by law enforcement to shut rallies down due to COVID-19 risks. Mr. Dungay’s name, along with the terms of more than 470 Indigenous people who have died in custody since the royal commission handed down its final report 30 years ago, was chanted through microphones and printed on placards.
To date, no Australian police officer has been convicted of any of those deaths.
“The death of George Floyd has drawn the world’s attention to the injustices of the criminal justice system and policing around the world,” said George Newhouse, chief executive of the National Justice Project.
The lawyer, representing the Dungay family, said he saw Mr. Chauvin’s conviction as a “positive step” but added Australia was a long way from “holding police accountable for their actions, let alone providing real justice”.
Ms. Dungay says she believes Australia is getting closer to a civil rights reckoning, made hopeful by the enormous turnouts for Black Lives Matter protests last year.
But unlike the US, where Mr. Biden and vice president Kamala Harris have publicly decried systemic racism and committed to police reform, Ms. Dungay says Australian leaders need to be honest about the issue.
“It’s unbelievable how many of us [Indigenous] people have been slaughtered and enslaved before this incarceration ever came up,” she said. “They’ve killed and taken a lot of people’s children.”