The relationship between Aboriginal people and police in Australia is tense.
Harsh treatment, inappropriate behaviour and seemingly excessive sentences are the most common issues.
- Chance of the public of having a complaint against police upheld. Chances are even less if it is related to physical force .
- Number of complaints made about excessive physical force which were upheld between 2007 and 2010 .
- Days within which police aims to resolve minor complaints. Serious complaints: 180 days. Percentage of cases that reached that standard in 2010-11: 6% .
There are numerous examples where police heavy-hands an incident involving Aboriginal people. Officers going too far are rarely brought to trial and often covered by their colleagues.
NSW State Coroner Mary Jerram was compelled in one of her reports to point out that police “do not have a licence to act recklessly, carelessly or dangerously or with excessive force”. Such behaviour constitutes “an abuse of police powers” .
In one case, Aboriginal people were hunting in an unfenced area in Western Australia. Under the Land Administration Act, traditional landowners are allowed hunting and other cultural pursuits on certain pastoral leases that have embraced their lands. While most station owners are respectful of these rights, in this particular case station staff alerted the police who dispatched two cars, intercepted the group and allegedly ‘eye-balled’ elders and showed ‘immature behaviour’ .
Police arrest Aboriginal people for incredibly trivial offences such as swearing. Even if no charges are laid, Aboriginal people’s relationship with police can be broken. “Now I see that officer when I go into town and I’m scared he is going to arrest me, there’s a real tension there. I don’t feel comfortable going into [town] any more”, says Robyne Churnside who had been arrested for swearing by that officer .
When Aboriginal people in the remote community of Borroloola collected Christmas hampers that contained alcohol (which is forbidden outside town), police could have informed Aboriginal people at the depot where they collected the hamper that they couldn’t take any alcohol back to their homes. Instead, they called in reinforcements from Katherine, 670 kilometres away, and waited until Aboriginal people brought their Christmas hampers into the Prescribed Areas and then conducted a “detection and seizure operation” where they not only seized alcohol, but also cars .
Police coerce kids to react—and know they’re wrong. Michael Anderson, Aboriginal leader of the Euahlayi people in NSW, has experienced it first-hand.
“In towns like Walgett, Brewarrina, Bourke, etc police blatantly target our kids and pull them up for what some of the kids say is nothing, and then antagonise them by making accusations, causing the kids to react, which in most cases results in them being charged with minor misdemeanours. These kids have told me personally that the first thing the police ask for is their mobile phones in order to prevent the kids from recording them.” 
In Western Australia, Aboriginal people are fed up with the behaviour of police. Marianne Mackay is a Whadjuk woman and Aboriginal deaths in custody campaigner. She says that “in Western Australia, we live under a dictatorship. [Ours] is a racist police force, which is dictated to by the government. The police force is not here for the people, they’re here to protect those above us and that’s not right. They are public servants, they should start acting like it.” .
No wonder Aboriginal people become suspicious of police. Mistrust has been seeded ever since the Stolen Generations and the deaths in custody.
A reoccurring issue between Aboriginal people and the police is the different view of their ‘interaction’. Here are two views of the same protest which took place in July 2011 at a site proposed for a gas hub near Broome .
Treated like feral animals
A protester said police have been “extraordinarily heavy-handed”. “They were bloody terrifying, they basically treated us [Aboriginal protesters] like feral animals.”
With respect and care
Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett noted that “when some resisted they were forcibly removed but they were treated with respect and care.” Mr Barnett had not been present during the protests.
No government trial, pilot scheme or merely a wish-list will ever succeed, because the police will not allow it to happen if it even remotely threatens their power bases.—Ray Jackson, President, Indigenous Social Justice Association 
Police laughed on the night he died—witness
A man arrested with Aboriginal man Terrance Briscoe says he, Mr Briscoe and three other men who had been arrested for drunkenness were in a room with 4 police officers on 4 January 2012 when Mr Briscoe refused to give his name.
After becoming agitated, Mr Briscoe swung his fist at one of the officers. Although he was drunk and the swing only half-hearted, the policeman pushed Mr Briscoe hard on to the ground hand held him face down and sat on his back while other officers put their feet on him, the witness old media.
While on the ground, Mr Briscoe struggled to breathe and began to bleed.
“They were really rough, and they were laughing at the same time,” the witness said. “They were making a mockery out of him.”
Mr Briscoe was found unconscious just after 2am the same night and died in a hospital the next day .
Taser use: “Mr Spratt was screaming constantly”
Aboriginal man Kevin Spratt was tasered 13 times while up to 9 officers surrounded him. CCTV footage showed the unarmed and subdued man screaming constantly.
A week later, while imprisoned, Mr Spratt was tasered again multiple times when officers tried to “extract” him from his cell.
No officers were charged over the incident, despite a police internal inquiry finding that two officers had used undue and excessive force.
Mr Spratt suffered fractured ribs, a collapsed lung, a fracture of the humerus and a dislocated shoulder. 
In another incident an Aboriginal man was tasered while kneeling in his lounge room with his hands behind his head.
While the officer involved told the court that he used the taser because he feared for himself and two colleagues, the court ruled that police had used “excessive force” and breached police “standard operating procedures” . It dismissed all charges against the man.
Here’s a short news reel showing video footage of the incident (includes transcript).
More than 20% of police taser deployments were against Aboriginal people [9,10], and 40% of all taser use involved multiple or prolonged tasering which is more likely to cause damage to a person’s health. Queensland police taser about 30 persons each month .
However, 67% of assault situations on police could be resolved peacefully after showing a taser .
The police taser policy has changed since the incident, and its use is only permitted when there is an imminent risk of serious harm .
Others were not so lucky. In 2004 Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee died after an attack by police officer Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley. Cameron’s offence: being drunk and swearing at police.
The very thought of police and the brutality of their enforcement and their arm send absolute shivers of fear up the spines of Aboriginal people.—Robert Eggington, Nyoongar leader 
Here is another case of excessive tasering by police of a 14-year-old Aboriginal youth.
Not a single conviction
There are many instances where police behaviour is questionable. If victims call for an investigation it is usually police investigating police, like in the case of Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee.
Calls for investigation are not limited to cases involving Aboriginal people. The media are littered with cases where officers were exonerated, commended or promoted after a questionable case . During court proceedings police officers mislead the public or collude in their version of events.
For example, during a prosecution in 2012, four Senior Constables said a man assaulted one of them at the police station by punching the officer in the face. But CCTV footage showed the punch never happened—instead, the officers forced the man to the ground before one kicked him in the head and another kneed him in the side of his torso .
An inquiry found the officers had shared their accounts of the incident before submitting them, a practice that had been taught by more senior officers .
Policing is far from flawless. A former respected police officer identified “unreasonable use of force, failure to investigate, unreasonable conduct, victimisation and misuse of authority” among others as issues affecting policing . Aboriginal people, if asked, would agree to that list.
John McKenzie, chief legal officer with the Aboriginal Legal Service of NSW/ACT, calls for an independent investigative body in such cases. “The Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody called for such a body and it still hasn’t happened in any state or territory,” he says .
McKenzie says the frequent contact between Aboriginal people and police makes incorrect police behaviour an “ever-present issue” within communities.
Not a single police officer in any criminal jurisdiction in the Commonwealth has ever been convicted of any offence relating to an Aboriginal death in custody.—Sam Watson Snr, Aboriginal rights campaigner 
As long as police officers know that they are treated as a protected species by their governments, their respective ministers, commissioners and their fellow officers that is how they will act.—Ray Jackson, president, Indigenous Social Justice Association 
Mutual respect agreement
But there is hope. In 2009 the Ngukurr community in the Northern Territory signed a mutual respect agreement with police  aiming to improve relations.
Police commit to mutual respect, regular meetings, improved cultural awareness and community interaction. Elders are to train local police, including information on the location and importance of sacred sites and ceremonial grounds.
Last updated: 27 May 2013 | Out of respect for Aboriginal culture I use Indigenous sources as much as possible.
 'Premier backs police handling of protest', Koori Mail 505 p.8
 'Police accused of being heavy-handed', Koori Mail 404 p.44
 'Loud and proud', Koori Mail 513 p.9
 'Towards a just system', Koori Mail 511 p.24
 'Mr Briscoe laid to rest', Koori Mail 519 p.17
 'WA taser footage shown at hearing', Koori Mail 491 p.16
 'Bugmy not guilty - Police use of taser found 'excessive'', Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, Media release 21/2/2012
 'Indigenous people more likely to be tasered: CMC', Koori Mail 500 p.10
 'Taser usage in spotlight', Koori Mail 515 p.12
 'Top cop repeats Spratt apology', Koori Mail 500 p.10
 'Mulrunji protest set', Koori Mail 502 p.27
 'Police 'most racist' in WA', Koori Mail 414 p.11
 'ALS offers to help', Koori Mail 525 p.7
 'NT police, Ngukurr Elders in mutual respect agreement', Koori Mail 455 p.12
 ''Selective policing' under fire', Koori Mail 393 p.14
 See for example 'Stark differences in accounts of killing', Sun Herald 2/10/2011
 'Roberto Curti Inquest Findings 14 nov 2012 and the taser forum', email, Ray Jackson 15/11/2012
 'Welfare addiction causes Aboriginal rifts, hides real enemy', media statement, Goodooga NSW, 20/12/2009
 'NSW police accused of bashing 'cover-up'', SBS News, 18/2/2013, www.sbs.com.au/news/article/1738280/NSW-police-accused-of-bashing-cover-up, retrieved 22/2/2013
 'Aboriginal man did not assault police: cop', The Tracker 22/2/2013
 'Christmas in Borroloola', The Tracker 28/2/2013
 'Cop blows whistle', Sunday Telegraph 7/4/2013
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