‘Deeply sorry’: Western Australia police chief apologises to Indigenous people | Australia news
The Western Australian police commissioner has issued a historic apology to the state’s Indigenous people, saying he took ownership for “past wrongful actions that have caused immeasurable suffering” and fuelled a sense of mistrust towards the force.
Speaking at police headquarters in Perth on Thursday, Chris Dawson apologised for the police role in carrying out policies that led to the stolen generations, while also acknowledging that “land dispossession, violence, racism, incarceration and deaths in custody have occurred through a history of conflict with Aboriginal people and police”.
“As the legislated protectors of Aboriginal people, police played an important and significant role in contributing to a traumatic history, which continues to reverberate today,” he said.
“I accept that previous laws, practices and policies deeply affected the lives of Aboriginal people, and that police involvement in historical events has led to mistrust in law enforcement and the damaging of our relationship.”
Dawson wanted to use his time as commissioner to “heal historical wounds” and was “optimistic about a more positive future”.
“But today, we are deeply sorry,” he said.
The apology was welcomed by anti-police violence advocates, although Carol Roe, the grandmother of Ms Dhu, who died in police custody in 2014, said she felt insulted she had not been invited to the event – which coincided with Naidoc week.
Earlier on Thursday, Dawson was reported as calling for an end to “unconscious bias” within the force in an interview with the West Australian, but did not use those words in his speech.
Instead he mostly focused on the effect of historical policies and attitudes towards Indigenous people.
But even in recent months there have been police incidents that have angered the Indigenous community.
In May a senior sergeant was stood down after an Aboriginal teenager was run down by a police vehicle in the Perth suburb of Thornlie. The incident, which was captured on video, made national news.
The Reconciliation WA chair, Carol Innes, said the relationship between Aboriginal people and the police had not been “one to celebrate”.
Innes said Thursday’s apology demonstrated the “level of respect” the community had been seeking for too long.
“Aboriginal people in Australia have a long history of being defenceless in the face of [police power],” she said.
Mervyn Eades, from the deaths in custody watch committee, welcomed that systemic racism within the force had been “owned by the commissioner”.
“That’s a great way forward,” he said.
Eades also called for new policy initiatives, such as requiring trainee police to undertake cultural awareness training conducted by Aboriginal elders and community leaders.
Gerry Georgatos, an WA anti-police violence advocate and coordinator of the national Indigenous critical response project, also said the apology was a step in the right direction.
“I know what they’re trying to do is authentic, but there’s a lot of work they need to do to reach certain demographics,” he said.
Roe told the ABC: “It would have been nice for me and my daughter to go down. I feel like we’re still left out.”
The WA police minister, Michelle Roberts, said it was an “inspirational day, not just for Indigenous people but for all of us”.
The Indigenous flag was flown at police headquarters for the first time and will remain there.
Amnesty International Australia’s Indigenous rights adviser, Rodney Dillon, said the organisation hoped the apology marked the “beginning of a better relationship between Aboriginal people and police”.
“This apology must be followed by concrete action, particularly on the issues he raised today, the fact that WA police diverted fewer Aboriginal than non-Aboriginal children away from the court system,” he said.
A state government report last year found WA has the highest Indigenous imprisonment rate of any state.