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Elijah Doughty decision shows there is rarely justice for aboriginal victims

  • 28 July 2017


As the news came through on Friday that the man who had run down young Elijah Doughty in Kalgoorlie last year had escaped a manslaughter conviction and instead had been sentenced for three years for the charge of reckless driving causing death, I saw Aboriginal community members dissolve. Many expressed grief for Elijah's family and community. Others set about highlighting how there is rarely any justice in this system for Aboriginal people and how our lives mean nothing to greater Australia. Others set about activating the community by calling rallies and actions to protest this ruling and highlight the injustice.

Despite all this, the one reaction I did not see coming out of the community was surprise. Because we weren't surprised. From one end of the country to the other, Aboriginal community members were expecting this ruling and had been ever since police decided not to charge the 56 year old male driver (whose name has been suppressed) with murder, instead opting for the lesser charge of manslaughter.

We have seen it all happen before and history dictates that, at the end of the day, it is highly unlikely that killing an Aboriginal child, or man, or woman, will attract a sentence at all—if it even goes to court in the first place.

As Chris Graham points out, the number of Aboriginal people who have been killed, and for whom the justice system has failed, continues to climb. Yet there is rarely any outcry from the general public. It is telling that in the case of Elijah, not only has the conviction been watered down to what essentially amounts to a bad traffic misdemeanour, continuously in articles—in online commentary and so forth—it seemed the populace was excusing the perpetrator's actions by stating that Elijah had “stolen a motorbike” from him.

Never mind that the circumstances around how Elijah came to be riding that bike have never been established. Never mind that it also hasn't been established whether Elijah even knew the bike was stolen. Never mind that Elijah actually had two bikes of his own which had been taken by the police under “suspicion” of being stolen, only to be returned after his death when it was established that they weren't.

None of these facts seems to matter. Due to the racist undercurrent which permeates Australia, what seems to matter most is how the actions of a 56-year-old man, driving a two tonne vehicle, can be reconfigured so