Photo by Katrina Beavan, ABC Alice Springs

This is a guest post by Frank Baarda, a long-term resident of Yuendumu, NT.

Yesterday hundreds of Yuendumu residents marched on the Yuendumu police station. The police station was going to be opened to allow the station to be swept.

Sweeping is a ritual whereby after a death the areas the dead person had frequented are swept using eucalyptus branches. I will not claim to fully understand its significance, all I can say is that it is a sombre emotional and cathartic event.

The march seemed carefully choreographed. At the vanguard a group of placard carrying children who on arrival lined up and repeatedly chanted “Justice for Walker” and who much later briefly chanted “Peace”. Behind the children a very large group of black clad women with white ochre smeared foreheads followed carrying branches.

Sporadic wailing would emanate from this group as we walked the considerable distance from the basketball court to the police station. Then followed the men and white-fellows and a miscellaneous assortment of visitors including journalists.

As the slow process of first women then men then young people entering the station a few at a time to sweep was happening, the chanting children suddenly broke ranks and covered the police station walls with blood red paint hand prints.

The march had been filmed by the ABC. Overshadowed by the NSW and Queensland fires our march appeared at the tail end of the news. Missing from the coverage were the chanting children. “Tensions are rising at the community of Yuendumu” the voice over proclaimed.

Not long before we arrived in Mexico City on our way back to Australia from Canada, a massacre of students had occurred. That was in 1971 and I recall seeing a police riot squad seated in a long side-less bus driving past. The Mexican police were dressed in black and heavily armed. Never again was I to see such a sinister sight, until yesterday.

“ …They do not know, that a subtle but effective system of terrorism, together with an organized display of force on the one hand, and the deprivation of all powers of retaliation or self-defence on the other, has emasculated the people and induced in them the habit of simulation …. This awful habit has added to the ignorance and self deception of the administrators”

Mahatma Ghandi at his 1922 Sedition trial

Yesterday we witnessed an organised display of force. At the public meeting at the basketball court I counted five police vehicles including one labelled ‘Major Crash Investigation Unit’.

At the airstrip there was another police vehicle. Parked on the apron there were two Pilatus PC-12 aircraft, one belonging to the Royal Flying Doctor Service and another to the NT Police.

I’d been told that earlier on, a contingent of police bristling with weapons had arrived on the police plane. A friendly policeman at the airstrip asked me what I was up to and told me that “The airport is closed off to the public for security reasons”.

Opposite the police station at the other side of town in the shade of a lone tree there were four armed policemen dressed in military camouflage.

At the public meeting it seemed to me that the only unarmed policeman was a senior ranking officer who has a long association with Yuendumu and has many friends here and is well respected in the community.

Yesterday I witnessed the largest concentration of armed police I have ever seen since 1971 in Mexico. Why the overt display of weaponry? Was it out of unwarranted fear? Or was it an insensitive display resulting from ignorance or arrogance or both?

So now once again and for the wrong reasons Yuendumu finds itself in the headlines. Bureaucrats politicians and the media are complicit in spreading misinformation which is once again portraying Yuendumu as this incredibly unsafe and dangerous place where ‘tensions are rising’.

A question asked at the public meeting was “ Why haven’t the police told all government departments that it is safe to come here?” No answer was forthcoming.

The NT Police motto is Building a safe community through prevention, integrity and unity.

If what they’re doing in Yuendumu is their idea of living up to their motto. they’re no better than Centrelink, whose motto is Giving you Options.

On an ABC website the following appeared a few days ago:

At approximately 7:00pm last night a member of the Northern Territory Police was involved in an incident where a 19-year-old man in Yuendumu was shot Deputy Commissioner White said.

An ‘incident’?

It has now been declared a ‘death in custody’ Incidentally almost invariably in Australia when someone gets shot and killed if the person who pulled the trigger is known such a person is arrested and charged with murder and guilt or otherwise is determined by the courts.

At 7:15pm on Tuesday 13 November 2019 the NT Police Force issued the following statement:

Police officer charged – Yuendumu shooting.

A 28-year old male Northern Territory Police officer has been charged with one count of murder.

As this matter is before the court, no further information will be released.

This information is provided in accordance with NT Police Transparency Guidelines.