Relatives of an Indigenous man whose 2015 death in custody was the driving force behind a shut-down Black Lives Matter protest on Tuesday have hit out at the police’s handling of the event while delivering a poignant question to hosts on The Project.
Less than 100 people attended the protest after organisers failed to overturn a NSW Supreme Court decision prohibiting the protest due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Dunghutti man David Dungay Jr, 26, died in December 2015 after five prison officers stormed his Sydney jail cell to stop him eating biscuits.
Attention to his death has surged since the murder of US man George Floyd by police in Minneapolis on May 25, which sparked international protests fighting racial injustice.
Appearing on Channel 10’s The Project, Mr Dungay’s cousin Lizzy Jarrett questioned the inaction her family has witnessed in searching for justice for their relative.
When host Carrie Bickmore thanked Ms Jarrett for her time and told her “we’ll be following this closely”, the remark clearly hit a nerve.
“Well that’s nice to know The Project but the last statement I’d like to say on behalf of my family is: where have you been for the last four and a half years?” she asked, as Mr Dungay’s mother Leetona Dungay, stood to her right, appeared to wipe away tears.
A brief, awkward pause followed, before Bickmore replied: “Noted.”
“Four years ago no-one knew the name of David Dungay and now someone overseas dies in parallel circumstances and everyone knows my cousin’s name,” Ms Jarrett told the show earlier.
Police response ‘disgusting’, Dungay’s family says
Hundreds of police officers outnumbered the small numbers which showed up to the protest, with NSW Police saying six people were arrested including one of the organisers.
Ms Jarrett said the police response was “utterly disgusting” and had left her family members feeling “intimidated”.
“We are the ones to face more police brutality after you watched the way my cousin died. Today’s police response was utterly disgusting,” she said.
She said the family had tried to cooperate with police and provide a COVID-safe environment, however their coronavirus safety stall with hand sanitiser was shut down.
Rally organiser Paddy Gibson was one of those arrested and had asked supporters to gather in groups of fewer than 20.
"We weren't allowed to give it a run even though Westfield is allowed, as well as the casino and the NRL," the 37-year-old told AAP.
"People are allowed to come together to make profits but they're not allowed to come together to say black lives matter; that's a disgraceful situation in NSW."
‘National disgrace and abuse of power’
Another attendee who was arrested, Bundjalung woman Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts, said all protesters had complied with COVID safety regulations.
"Police were the only threat ... a national disgrace and abuse of power," Ms Turnbull-Roberts posted on Twitter.
A petition with 100,000 signatures was later delivered to parliament calling for justice for Mr Dungay.
In 2019, a coronial inquest into Mr Dungay’s death found Corrective Services officers were not responsible for his death.
“I understand with COVID and what’s going on with the pandemic, but do they realise racism is a pandemic and has been for hundreds of years – and there’s a cure and they refuse to use it,” she said.
“That’s what really upsets me. All our relatives are always COVID-safe and take precautions – we have children too and we’re not out there to get sick.
“We just want justice for our brother and equality. If there was no racism, my brother would still be here today.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.