Kacey Teerman (she/her) is a Gomeroi woman and the Indigenous Rights Associate Campaigner for Amnesty International Australia.
The 28th of September is John Pat Day.
I’ve known the heartbreak and significance of John Pat Day since I was in primary school. Elders and community spoke about the Yindijibardi boy John Pat, and, how at just 16, he was the victim of police brutality and violence that caused his death. At the hands of several drunk off-duty police officers, John Pat was killed.
Devastation and heartbreak plagued our communities and sparked outrage across the country.
The death of John Pat was the impetus that led to the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in custody. In all that time between John Pat’s death, and now – nothing has changed. There is no justice, and no peace for our families and communities who continue to lose our loved ones to police violence.
John Pat was 16-years-old when he and several other First Nations people witnessed an assault taking place out the front of the Victoria Hotel in Roebourne, Western Australia. The incident involved five drunk off-duty police officers.
Onlookers stated that one of the officers punched Pat in the face, which sent him falling backwards to strike his head on the road whilst on the ground another officer is said to have come over and kicked the youth in the head.
Pat was then dragged and thrown into a waiting police van and then once they reached the station he was dragged out before being beaten again and then placed in a juvenile cell where he was found dead an hour later.
The four officers involved in John Pat’s death were all tried for manslaughter in the Supreme Court of Western Australia at Karratha in May 1984. All of the officers refused to testify and they were all acquitted by an all-white jury.
All of the officers were reinstated to duty. No disciplinary action was taken against any police officer.
Despite pleas from the family and community there has never been an independent inquiry into John Pat’s death and his family have never received an official apology.
John Pat’s death and the outcry and campaign it sparked was the impetus for the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody which made its final report in April 1991 making 339 recommendations, the majority of which have never been actioned or implemented in any meaningful way.
Since the Royal Commission findings 31 years ago, there have been over 500+ black deaths in custody. First Nations people continue to die when coming into contact with the ‘justice system’ at an alarming rate.
How many more tragic deaths like John Pat’s will it take for this country to realise we need to ensure that the recommendations from the Royal Commission are implemented in every state and territory?
Additionally, the Federal, and state and territory governments must ensure that priority funding is put into successful solutions that have a far greater outcome than prisons for our people, and our communities.
We know what the justice system does to our people, and we can’t lose anymore mob to the system. It’s time for governments to commit to justice properly.
It is my hope that working with state, territory and community leaders we will be able to end deaths in custody and the imprisonment of children.
I encourage you to listen to the song ‘John Pat’ by Uncle Archie Roach on the album Journey 2007, written by Archie Roach and Jack Davis.