Arrests made at Alice Springs rally against youth incarceration, deaths in custody

“Kids on country, not in custody.”

That was one of the chants that echoed through Alice Springs last week as people rallied against youth incarceration and deaths in custody and hoped to keep a focus on the final Royal Commission report now delayed for a third time.

However, it wasn’t long before eight of the group—one as young as 14—were in custody themselves.

Anna McCauley, a member of Shut Youth Prisons Mpartnwe present at the rally said the group had occupied an intersection on the Sturt Highway for 10-15 minutes before police moved in.

“That’s when things started to get violent.”

“We saw a lot of police brutality, we saw a lot of anger coming from the police as well.”

“People are really shaken up. We had a 14-year old kid crash-tackled to the ground—and not long after body-slammed,” she told 4ZZZ.

“[We’ve seen] nothing like this before.”

Police said eight people between the ages of 14 and 47 were arrested for obstructing traffic and disorderly conduct. 

One of those arrested was Dylan Voller, a youth justice advocate who came to national attention when images of him tied to a restraint chair appeared in a Four Corners episode on youth detention in the Northern Territory, and his mother.

Footage posted on social media of the protest showed police brandishing pepper-spray canisters, throwing some people to the ground and, in one instance, kicking another who was using a camera to record part of the police response.

The march had been organised as part of a global mobilisation calling for alternatives to youth incarceration prior to the release of the NT Royal Commission into Youth Detention and Protection report—originally due the following day, now pushed back until November 17.

Protestors were also calling attention to the one-year anniversary of the death of Wayne Fella Morrison, along with the deaths of Kwementeye Briscoe, Ms Dhu, John Pat and all other deaths in custody since 1991’s Royal Commission.

The planned march took on elevated importance following the deaths of Tane Chatfield in Tamworth Correctional Centre, and a Mornington Island man at Townsville Correctional Centre, the week prior.

There are concerns that recommendations from the current Royal Commission will see as a similar fate to what many regard those in the 1991 Royal Commission did—many of which are still to be implemented.

“It’s really important that as many eyes as possible are on the NT government when these recommendations come out,” McCauley told 4ZZZ, “we can’t keep letting them get away with doing nothing.”

“Pouring millions of dollars into these commissions and reports and relying on people to tell traumatising stories of their experiences with these systems—so much goes into these reports and so little comes out of them.”

There are also concerns the recommendations may even lack teeth at all.

“There’s been a lot of acknowledgment throughout the proceedings of this Royal Commission that the previous history with Royal Commissions is that they’re not acted upon, and the commissioners have stated that they're keen to work together with the government to ensure the recommendations are implemented,” McCauley said.

“While that’s a little bit reassuring on one hand that also spurs the question that maybe these recommendations aren’t going to have substantive change and they’re just going to have mild reform.”


Image: Provided. Shut Youth Prisons Mparntwe rally in Alice Springs.

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