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Inquest into Indigenous death may consider systemic racism

The coroner is set to decide if systemic racism will be considered in the inquest into the death of Kumanjayi Walker.

user iconJess Feyder 12 September 2022 The Bar
Inquest into Indigenous death may consider systemic racism
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The North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency (NAAJA), with support from the Human Rights Law Centre (HRLC), is taking part in the coronial inquest into the police-shooting death of Kumanjayi Walker.  

NAAJA will represent the broader Aboriginal community in the Northern Territory and highlight systemic injustices that contribute to the ongoing deaths of Aboriginal people in police custody. 

On 9 November 2019, nineteen-year-old Warlpiri and Luritja teenager Kumanjayi Walker died after being shot three times at close range by police officer Zachary Rolfe in the community of Yuendumu.


Constable Rolfe was charged with murder after the shooting, and then unanimously acquitted by the all-white jury in the Northern Territory Supreme Court in Darwin.

Coroner Elisabeth Armitage is presiding over the three-month coronial inquest, which is being held in Alice Springs.

The coroner will hear arguments on the scope of the inquest and determine whether the issue of systemic racism should be considered within the scope. 

The scope of the inquest was previously settled at a directions hearing earlier this year but is the subject of a late objection by Constable Rolfe.  

During the inquest, NAAJA and the HRLC will highlight systemic injustices experienced by Aboriginal people in the Northern Territory and call for: 

  1. An end to discriminatory policing and excessive use of force by police; 
  2. Independent and more robust police accountability mechanisms; and 
  3. Community-led alternatives to police and community-controlled health services. 
The coroner said she wanted to gain an understanding of what happened from the perspective of the family and the Yuendumu community through the next several months.

“This coronial provides us an opportunity to examine how this could have happened,” said Beth Wild, principal legal officer at NAAJA. 

“What has led up to a heavily armed police group heading into an Aboriginal community and shooting a 19 year old Aboriginal man in his own home?”

“Kumanjayi Walker should be alive today with his family and his community,” said Nick Espie, legal director at the Human Rights Law Centre.

Across this country, hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody in the last three decades since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

“Yet governments continue to sit on their hands and fail to act.

“The Northern Territory government can end racial injustice today by addressing the systemic racism we see every day and that is woven into the fabric of institutions like the police and the delivery of health services,” said Mr Espie.   

“For as long as governments allow police to act with racism and impunity, deaths in custody will continue.

“The families and community have shown tremendous strength and dignity throughout this ordeal – and continue to do so.

“They must be listened to, and governments must act on community calls for change. 

“Aboriginal communities and organisations have always had the answers - now it is time for action,” he said.

“We must be able to honestly identify flaws in our system so that we can fix them,” said Ms Wild.

“Only then can we ensure the safety of people living at Yuendemu and other Aboriginal Communities.”

Derek Japangardi Williams, a senior Aboriginal community police officer and Walker’s uncle, has called for a standalone remote policing station in Yuendumu to boost local decision-making, cultural competency and improve policing in remote Indigenous communities.

“We want them out there to understand the culture and how we work in remote communities,” Williams told the inquest.

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