‘It was murder. We want justice’—Outrage at police killing in Yuendumu

Last Saturday night four police went to a house at Yuendumu, an Aboriginal community 266 kilometres north-west of Alice Springs, to arrest a 19-year-old Warlpiri man, Kumanjayi Walker. By the time they left, Walker was probably dead, shot three times by officer Zachary Rolfe.

As word has spread of the police killing, so has the outrage.

Protests in Yuendumu were followed by protests in Alice Springs. Many carried banners saying “Black Lives Matter”. At Lajamanu, the second biggest Warlpiri community in the Northern Territory, the whole community were involved in a protest on Monday, “We got all the kids out of school too, and walked to the police station,” Valerie Patterson, a community educator told Solidarity.

More than 200 people marched to the police station in Tennant Creek on Tuesday. A national day of action today, Wednesday 13 November, will see rallies in capital cities and many smaller towns and communities, including a walk-out at Kalkarindji.

The police story is full of holes and already smells like a cover-up.

Police say Kumanjayi Walker was shot around 7.15pm on Saturday night. But there was no formal request for medical help until 8.15pm.

A statement from the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) says they received a brief initial report (but not from the police) of a gunshot wound in Yuendumu at 7.45pm. It was almost half an hour later (8.15pm, and an hour since the shooting) before a formal request for an airlift was made to the RFDS by the Northern Territory Government’s Medical Retrieval and Consultation Centre.

At 9.00pm when the flying doctor service was told that Walker was dead, their medical team had not left Alice Springs. It has now emerged that Walker was pronounced dead when clinic staff arrived at Yuendumu from a neighbouring community between 8.15 and 8.30pm.

Racism is also behind the lack of medical treatment. Medical staff based at Yuendumu had been withdrawn by NT Health on Saturday, citing “community unrest”. John Patterson from the Aboriginal Medical Services Alliance said, “it is totally unacceptable to not have clinic staff there when you’ve got a community of more than a thousand people”. Patterson also condemned delays by the RFDS, who also cited “safety concerns”.

NT Police Acting Deputy Commissioner Michael White told a press conference in Darwin on Sunday that two shots were fired by police, but Acting Assistant Commissioner Travis Wurst told the Yuedumu community protest meeting on Sunday afternoon that three shots were fired.

Most of the Yuendumu community believes that Kumanjayi Walker was already dead at the house.

One Yuendumu resident told Solidarity, “The police—there were four of them—dragged him by the legs and threw him in the back of the police van—like a dog. Why did they do that if he wasn’t dead? They were more concerned to get the police that shot him out of town, than get any help. They are telling lies. His wife had been threatened with a gun even before he was shot.

“Why did they even have to go to the house?”  

Walker was lying on a mattress when police arrived at the house. Malcolm Wall, a Yuendumu resident told The Age, “The kid wasn’t going anywhere. He wasn’t running away.”

Police statements about the moments before the shooting are clearly at odds with eye-witness reports. One police report said that Kumanjayi Walker “lunged” at police, while later police statements said that one police officer was “stabbed”. Initially the police refused to say what the weapon was, but on Monday morning the Police Commissioner Jamie Chalker said the police office was stabbed “by a sharp or an edged weapon.”  Most of the Yuendumu community doesn’t believe there was a weapon at all.

The “injured” officer Rolfe reportedly received first aid at the Yuendumu police station on Saturday night and was “seen and released” at the Alice Springs hospital on Sunday. Many locals say Rolfe was observed moving around without injury on Saturday night.

Now, the police are trying to create even more divisions—seven buses turned up on Tuesday to evacuate teaching and other staff from the community. “The teachers don’t want to go. This is not a black-white fight,” Valerie Martin told Solidarity from Yuendumu, “Our issue is with the police. We want them out of our community.”

“The police station is full of police, including task force police. What for? We are the ones who are fearful of them.

“We want justice. It was cold blooded murder.”

Malcolm Wall echoed the whole community’s view, “We’ll have to live with this forever. No one will forget this. Police will never get respect back in this community.”

Walker is the second Aboriginal person to die after being shot by police in the past two months.

In September, 29-year-old Yamatji woman Joyce Clarke was shot in Geraldton, Western Australia, and died soon after in hospital.

Harry Nelson said the Warlpiri will continue to “take to the streets” and called for more protests around the country, “The NT Intervention has a lot to do with this, it has set us right back. The last time Warlpiri people were shot like this was 90 years ago, with the Coniston massacre”.

By Ian Rintoul


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