After Northern Territory cop Zachary Rolfe was found not guilty of murdering 19-year-old Warlpiri man Kumanjayi Walker, the right wing press celebrated. “Justice was served” we were told over and over again.
Evidence submitted to the ongoing coronial inquest into Kumanjayi’s death is revealing the opposite—the systemic racism of the NT police; the collusion and lies of Zachary Rolfe and other police; and the outright gung-ho thuggery of Rolfe’s unit, the Immediate Response Team (IMT).
In an interview with The Australian in 2019 Rolfe declared, “I don’t care what race anyone is. All I care about is behaviour.” But Rolfe lied. Text messages submitted to the coronial inquest reveal he regularly referred to Aboriginal people in derogatory terms such as “coons” and “neanderthals”. There was even a text written about Kumanjayi that was “too offensive” to be read aloud in the court.
In the same interview Rolfe claimed, “I honestly have not witnessed racism among my colleagues.” Again he lied. Text messages submitted to the inquest revealed the depth of racism in the NT police.
“Who was the silly bitch?” says one cop to Rolfe. Rolfe responds, “Fuck knows. Some white bitch who thinks she’s Aboriginal.” The other cop replies, “Lying in the dirt pissed, doing a fuckin’ good impersonation.”
In another exchange one cop says to Rolfe, “The cops out here have fucked this town. They have been letting the niggas drink wherever they want ha ha.” One of Rolfe’s superiors referred to Aboriginal people as “bush coons”.
The text messages also reveal the thuggery of the IMT. “It’s a sweet gig,” says Rolfe, you “just get to do cowboy stuff. No rules.”
In another message, Rolfe talks about having the “licence to towel locals” (meaning beat people up). In another text Rolfe says, “I’m out at Borroloola, a random community on the coast, ’cause they’re rioting. But we came up last time they did this and smashed the whole community. So, this time, as soon as we arrived, they started behaving.”
The IMT arrived in Yuendumu on the evening of Saturday 9 November 2019. They had been sent from Alice Springs as backup for the local police who were meant to arrest Kumanjayi. The local police had spoken to Kumanjayi’s family about giving himself up after attending his grandfather’s funeral that day.
Aboriginal community police officer Derek Williams told the inquest he thought the IMT was unnecessary as Kumanjayi was a “low risk” and that “there should have been no rush. He wasn’t a murderer”.
If Kumanjayi didn’t give himself up, the plan was to arrest him at 5am the morning after the funeral.
But not long after arriving in Yuendumu at 7pm on the Saturday, the IMT ignored the arrest plan and, under the cover of “intelligence gathering”, began entering premises armed with Glock pistols and tasers, while waving their AR15 assault rifle, and later a shotgun, outside. Not long after, at 7.22pm, Kumanyaji was shot three times by Rolfe.
Following a critical incident, the police involved are meant to be separated to prevent them from colluding on their story. But two days after the shooting, and before Rolfe had given his statement, Rolfe organised a “social gathering” at his house attended by fellow members of the IMT.
It was also revealed a fellow officer had sent Rolfe a text message with the acronym “IAMOPI”, which stands for “intent, ability, means, opportunity, preclusion …”, and was guidance about how evidence might be given.
Another text message has Rolfe telling a fellow officer he was happy to “make my camera face the other way” (referring to his body camera) if another officer is “losing their shit”.
Where is justice?
The coronial inquest is giving us a glimpse into how the system works to defend its underlings while systematically denying Aboriginal people justice.
After large protests erupted in Yuendumu and across Australia demanding “Justice for Walker”, authorities conceded to the pressure and charged Rolfe with murder. But once charged, the whole system worked in Rolfe’s favour.
Rolfe’s trial was moved to Darwin, 1500 kilometres from Yuendumu. No Aboriginal people were on the jury, even though they are about 30 per cent of the NT population.
The racist texts revealed by the coronial inquest were disallowed as evidence and were subject to media suppression orders.
Meanwhile, the whole right wing media establishment rallied to the defence of Rolfe. The police collusion was ignored.
The coronial inquest may deliver Kumanjayi’s family and the Yuendumu community some vindication but it will never deliver them real justice. That will only come from the struggles outside the established structures.
By Mark Gillespie