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Day inquest highlights threat of police profiling

  • 07 September 2019


For years, within feminist circles, I have seen countless memes and articles about the measures women allegedly take to make themselves feel safe while being out at night. How women keep to well-lit areas. How we hold our phones constantly or pretend to speak on them while walking so that potential attackers think we're connected to someone. How we lace our keys between our fingers just in case we need a weapon at a second's notice.

I've never been able to relate to this for two reasons. The first is that statistically, I know the least safe place for me as a woman is at home. The domestic and family violence studies point this out time and time again, yet still the social messaging to women is that we need to be at home with our male 'protectors', living half-lives. I also know that I am statistically less likely to become the victim of a public attack than any sole male walking around the streets.

The second reason is this: as an Aboriginal woman walking the streets at night, I am significantly more concerned about being brutalised by those charged to keep our streets safe — the police — than I am about any fellow lone wanderer on the streets. Particularly if I am protesting on the streets. Or if I have had a few beers and I cross their path while trying to make my way home. I have felt this way for years. The case of Tanya Day reinforced to me that my fears were well-founded.

The inquest into Day's death in police custody has been going on while I have been overseas, but it has not been hard to follow news coverage of the courtroom proceedings and feel incredibly distressed and disturbed by what has been coming out of it. It appears a lot of people with power made disastrous and uncaring decisions, yet not a single one of them believes they made the wrong call. Even though their decisions, their potential racial profiling of an Aboriginal woman on a train, led to them locking her up in a police cell, which in turn led to injuries from which she passed away 17 days later.

Take, for example, the V/Line conductor who called police after encountering Day sleeping on the train. Shaun Irvine described her as 'unruly' even though on his arrival, the arresting police officer confirmed she was asleep and