A huge reaction has swept across the country to the news that Northern Territory police officer, Zachary Rolfe was charged yesterday with the shooting murder of 19-year-old indigenous man, Kumanjayi Walker.
The charge, an historic first in Australia, has been welcomed by many within the Indigenous community who believe a blind eye has long been cast on police brutality toward its people.
Walker died after he was allegedly shot at Yuendumu, a town 300 kilometres from Alice Springs, on Saturday night.
It’s reported that two police officers, including Rolfe, arrived to arrest him for breaches of his suspended sentence. The shooting occurred shortly after, with the officers claiming Walker had lunged at them with a knife– allegations which have been disputed by the victim’s family.
Over the last week, several candlelit vigils and peaceful protests have been carried out across the Northern Territory and in major cities, and when news broke of Rolfe’s arrest last night, a vigil staged in Alice Springs was met by rapturous cheers.
Rolfe, who grew up in the national capital and attended the Canberra Grammar School, has since been released on bail. NT police confirmed that no further details of the incident would be released subject to court proceedings.
While Federal shadow minister for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney told ABC radio today that there was “enormous surprise” in the community that bail had been granted, Walker’s family was calling for calm.
There’s no doubt this case has become a symbolic marker of Australia’s vexed race relations and a hopeful precursor for change.
Academic and Kamilaroi woman, Amy Thunig spoke tearfully and passionately on ABC’s The Drum last night, saying it was time for Australians to stop overlooking similar injustices.
“We’re really angry,” she said.
“We’re at 21 Indigenous deaths at the hands of police– whether that’s in police custody or police presence– in a year. In one year.”
“We are devastated. We are outraged. I speak in solidarity with this community because this son is our son,” says @AmyThunig in response to the shooting of 19-year-old Indigenous teenager Kumanjayi Walker in the NT. pic.twitter.com/GFGMdxbqgc
— ABC The Drum (@ABCthedrum) November 13, 2019
A similar call to arms has been made by thousands on social media over the past few days.
Allies now is your chance to stand up for our people. If you can protest about climate change and marriage equality, you can call for justice for the First Peoples of this land you call home. #IStandWithYuendumu #JusticeForWalker pic.twitter.com/M30RSpgzLu
— Shannan Dodson (@ShannanJDodson) November 12, 2019
— Danielle Priest (@danielle_priest) November 13, 2019
— suze montgomery ☁ (@suze_montgomery) November 13, 2019
On Tuesday, prior to the ruling, NT police officers urged those on social media to be mindful of what they posted.
“There is a lot of public commentary especially on social media which could influence witnesses and not allow the investigation to run its full course,” it said.
“Out of respect to the deceased man, his family, Yuendumu, the wider Warlpiri community and the welfare of the officers involved, we ask that social media users are mindful of the hard work being done by the community leaders to support the grieving and maintain community safety.”