But while many are under the impression that police brutality and deaths in custody are unthinkable acts that only occur beyond our borders, the statistics suggest otherwise.
Aboriginal-Italian activist and Wurundjeri woman, Georgia Mae Capocchi-Hunter, hopes the current political climate will help Australians learn the truth about what’s happening in their own backyard.
“We are not a racism-free nation by any means and we are also no better than America,” she said.
In 1987, the Australian government appointed a Royal Commission to investigate 99 cases of Aboriginal deaths in custody between 1980 and 1989 – including the death of 16-year-old John Peter Pat, who was violently killed by West Australian police.
The Commission’s final report in 1991 included 339 recommendations; almost 30 years later, very few have been enacted and none have been enacted in their entirety.
Since 1991, there have been around 432 Aboriginal deaths in police custody and no convictions.
Capocchi-Hunter, 20, explained that many of these deaths are a result of “negligence and racist policing”.
“One of our men, David Dungay, was held to the ground, much like George Floyd, while he screamed ‘I can’t breathe’ [at least 12 times before he died],” she said.
“Aboriginal people are already over-represented in the justice system due to racist policing and policies – Aboriginal women are 21 times more likely to be incarcerated than non-Indigenous women and our children make up around 50 per cent of the juvenile justice system.
“This isn’t to say, however, that we commit more crimes, but we are punished more harshly than non-Indigenous people for the same crimes.”
Many people have been activated as George Floyd’s murder has shined an international light on police brutality and deaths in custody, and raised awareness about the grim reality in our own country.
The social media world went dark on Tuesday, with thousands of people posting black tiles to their profiles in a show of solidarity as part of the Blackout Tuesday movement.
Capocchi-Hunter said the movement had positive and negative aspects.
“There’s no denying it helped to spread awareness, as it forced people to be confronted with what was happening – my Instagram feed was filled with black squares the entire day, which was motivating to see,” she said.
“However, I think many people used it to fill their quota for support and allyship.
“Posting the black square is only beneficial if it isn’t tokenistic, so it’s important that those who posted the squares continue to be vocal in their support of the Black Lives Matter movement; otherwise, you were simply following a trend.”
So what can people do to help effect real change beyond the current media hype surrounding the issue?
Capocchi-Hunter said being informed and spreading awareness is crucial, adding that there are many social media accounts, books, movies and documentaries that can educate non-Indigenous Australians on Aboriginal history.
“If the public continue to look the other way then these atrocities will continue to occur,” she said.
“However, if we unite and the nation throws its support behind us and our movements, the government will have no choice but to change the policies that allow these deaths to occur.
“Throw your support behind us when we march, when we start petitions and when we set up fundraisers for families and organisations.”
Georgia Mae Capocchi-Hunter raises her fist during a protest in 2019
Many protests have been scheduled for this weekend around Australia, with the turnout at Melbourne’s protest on Saturday expected to rival the annual Invasion Day rally, which organisers claim attracted a crowd of around 80,000 earlier this year.
Tens of thousands of people have expressed their interest in attending, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
Victorian authorities have urged people not to attend the protest, warning it could spark a second wave of coronavirus in the state.
“Let’s not do anything on the weekend that compromises safety, let’s not do anything on the weekend that potentially spreads the virus,” Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison has also asked people not to attend rallies around the country, telling them to “find a better way” of expressing themselves.
Capocchi-Hunter believes it’s important for people to protest if it’s safe for them to do so, declaring that “racism and brutality do not stop for anything and our fight for justice and recognition must not stop either”.
“Unfortunately, the pandemic doesn’t look like it will be ending anytime soon but the community worries that the attention this issue is getting will pass, which is why we’re moving forward with these protests while the issue of police brutality is still fresh in everyone’s mind,” she said.
All protesters will be required to wear a face mask and take other safety precautions, including using hand sanitiser and gloves and keeping 1.5 metres apart.
Organisers are also urging anyone who is at risk or lives or works with those who are high risk to stay home and instead join in the protest via a livestream that will be shared on the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance Facebook page.
Capocchi-Hunter encouraged non-Indigenous people to participate in the protest, whether in person or via the livestream, but said it’s important not to centre themselves.
“The energy at a protest is very strong and can get people fired up,” she explained.
“You may want to head to the front or try to lead different sections of the rally, however, it’s extremely important you let Aboriginal and Black protestors lead and listen to their instruction – especially the organisers who are trying to ensure everything stays peaceful.”
Once the protests are over, those who stand with the community during this window of heightened awareness should continue to do so in the future to ensure this fight isn’t just a fleeting moment in time, to be forgotten in a few weeks.
“When the media frenzy dies down – because unfortunately it will – don’t forget about us,” Capocchi-Hunter concluded.
“Learn the names of those who have been killed in custody.
“Share our stories and educate those around you.
“Show us that you still care.”