Welcome to the third gift of anti-racism education – understanding.
Today we share with you the timeline of a 19 year old boy’s murder at the hands of a law enforcement official and his community’s resilience to continue fighting for justice. The recent developments of which bring some hope for 2021 as well as actions to be taken to help First Nation communities. An event connected to many events thereafter that already have caused some change and hopefully will lead to further change in Australia in the coming years. (5-6 mins read.)
It began a little over a year ago in a remote Northern Territory Town called Yuendumu. On November 9 2019, 19 year-old Kumanjayi Walker lost his life shortly after Northern Territory police officer Zachary Rolfe shot him three times while attempting to arrest him.
As soon as his family were notified, they pieced together what had unfolded and were immediately afraid and concerned that justice had been, and was being compromised in Kumanjayi’s death. Many of his closest friends and relatives shared the pain of their loss with the media. His partner Kisha Robertson, too upset to talk, released a statement through her grandmother.”They met when they were only young,” she said, “And their love grew deeper.“
Through the family’s grieving and fear, they decided to find justice for their son. Knowing how hard it would be to fight for a fair trial, the Walker family made a brave and rare decision to pursue legal action against Zachary Rolfe and join the emotional, financial and systemic battle that few First Nations communities have won.
Within days his family released statements, looked for legal aid and started a fundraiser to gather funds for legal costs. Bail was still granted to the officer accused of killing Kumanjayi – a decision described by The NT Criminal Lawyers Association as “very unusual in the extreme”. The family knew from the beginning that they would be fighting an uphill battle.
What happened next were many positive outcomes that followed this dreadful loss. A powerful timeline of the profound events including the love, hope and support for the Walker family is what we’ve put together for you next.
Within just a week of Kumanjayi’s death, Zachary Rolfe had been charged with the murder of their son and the family had selected Barrister Andrew Boe to support their inquest. The family unanimously requested that Boe assemble a separate, independent legal team to represent the community to ensure the proceedings would not have any conflict of interest with their inquest. The Kumanjayi Walker case would involve three proceedings: criminal, coronial and civil. Their focus became about fighting a much broader, systemic issue affecting the community.
Marches around Australia began in solidarity with Kumanjayi and the Yuendumu community. Webinars, vigils, concerts, fundraisers, social media activism and shares, moments of silence at sports events were other ways in which Australians extended their support in the months that followed.
International celebrities shared their anguish, including The Black Eyed Peas band member, Taboo Nawasha, who showed solidarity at his central Australia show, holding the Indigenous flag as a tribute during their song “Where is the love?” and posting his support for Kumanjayi’s case.
A Facebook page ‘Justice For Walker’ was made to document and share his story and to keep the wider community updated on their inquest. It quickly gained followers that actively began sharing their story. Support from all corners of the globe flooded to the tiny town of Yuendumu.
By mid-December 2019, court proceedings for charges began in Alice Springs. Members of the Warlpiri and surrounding communities travelled close to five hours to Alice Springs from their small desert town to support the Walker family. Across the first half of 2020, the Kumanjayi family lived through more long court hearings and dealt with several postponements, pushing on with support from their committee and legal team in hopes for the murder case to be held at the Supreme Court in front of a jury.
Throughout this year, COVID-19 dealt the community yet more hardship making it harder to pursue their case. Yet in June, the tragic killing of George Floyd by a police officer in the US led to something astonishing: protests calling for justice for black deaths in custody in the US, soon spreading to Australia. Over the course of several weeks, more than 60,000 people protested peacefully in all the major cities as well as Hobart, Darwin, Wyong, Mparntwe/Alice Springs and many more regional towns and cities.
On October 26th, almost a year after Zachary Rolfe was first charged with murder, the Yuendumu community recieved the news they had fought so hard for. Alice Springs local court judge John Birch ruled that constable Rolfe would stand trial for murder in the Australian Supreme Court, in spite of his lawyers arguing that he had no case to answer, with its first mention to be held on 25 November 2020. This is now the first NT murder trial to be held in the Supreme Court as a result from a case involving a black death in custody alleged by a law enforcement office.
Although Walker’s family have won their first victory, so much more is still to be obtained for them and for many others. So many more systemic and legal issues for First Nations communities are yet to be recognised and changed.
We hope that through this family’s trauma, through the trauma felt by so many throughout the past year, that new foundations are built, new voices are heard and judicial equity is pursued and enforced. Zachary Rolfe’s trial will be held amid a global reckoning on police and prison violence as part of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has focused new attention on First Nations families fighting for justice for Aboriginal deaths in custody.
We are taking this past year as one of the toughest our globe has seen, but for communities of Black, Indigneous and People of Colour the battles are still many and ongoing. We take today to commemorate justice for Kumanjayi Walker’s death in custody. Together we can continue to hear the voices of those around us, and support those that have been stripped of their power in the next decade.
Actions you can take
Here are some actions you can take to support the Walker family, and other First Nations families fighting for justice.
Follow hastags on social media to get regular updates
Support and donate to ANTaR – a grassroots movement of Australians in support of justice, rights and respect for Australia’s First Peoples.
The Facebook page ‘Justice For Walker’ has now gained over 10,000 followers in support. As of right now, the “Justice for Yuendumu” fund has raised over $363,000 and counting.