WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are warned that the following content may contain images and voices of deceased persons.
The family of a young Aboriginal woman whose 2014 death in custody a coroner ruled was preventable have pledged to make her death a rallying point for international racial justice campaigns.
Ms Dhu died in police custody in the remote West Australian town of South Hedland, and coroner Ros Fogliani today found that her life could have been saved by simple antibiotics if police and health workers had not failed her.
Her family’s plan for an international campaign was given a powerful tool when Ms Fogliani agreed to their request that CCTV footage of Ms Dhu’s last hours be made public.
Her uncle Shaun Harris, who runs the Justice for Dhu Facebook and Twitter feeds, said he would share the “shocking and disturbing” footage of her last hours with international racial justice campaigns, such as Black Lives Matter.
“We’ll definitely be tapping into our overseas networks and definitely be encouraging everyone to share, share and share as much as they can to make people aware not just of Ms Dhu but Aboriginal deaths in custody, to force custodial and judicial reforms,” he said.
‘We still want justice’, mother says
But while Ms Dhu’s family welcomed the release of the CCTV footage, they were unhappy that the coroner did not recommend anyone be investigated for potential criminal charges.
“We still want justice,” her grandmother, Carol Roe, said after the coroner handed down her findings.
But the coroner’s 11 recommendations — including changing the laws around jailing fine defaulters and establishing a custody notification service — were supported by Dennis Eggington, the chief executive of the Aboriginal Legal Service of WA.
“The recommendations, if fully implemented, will be fine,” he said.
“But it’s too late — this beautiful woman has passed away.”
Many police officers came under fierce criticism from the coroner as being “unprofessional and inhumane”, but WA Police Commissioner Karl O’Callaghan said he would not take any further action against the officers involved.
Dr O’Callaghan said an internal police investigation led to sanctions of four officers in 2014, with seven others failing to meet the required procedures.
But he supported the release of the footage of Ms Dhu’s last hours, saying it was concerning and disturbing.
“That sort of vision always has the potential to damage the WA Police,” he said.
“But I think it’s also a way of all of us moving forward.
“If it helps the family to explain what happened to their loved one, it helps us to account for how we’re going to address the situation in the future.”
Mr O’Callaghan said he had offered to meet privately with Ms Dhu’s family but they had not yet responded.
This post originally appeared on ABC News.
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