Time to change the narrative.
The police narratives emerging from the inquest highlight the entrenched nature of racism inherent in their beliefs which had a huge influence on the decisions, treatment and management of Ms Dhu resulting in her untimely death. Evidence by both prison and hospital staff clearly indicate the innate stereotypical narratives and racist beliefs communicated by the police and accepted by the medical staff influenced the inhuman treatment and contempt meted out by them to Ms Dhu. Rather than being judged and labelled as someone who was : ‘exaggerating her pain’ ‘withdrawing from drugs’ ‘behavioural issues’ and ‘faking her symptoms’, Ms Dhu deserved to be treated with dignity and empathy and as a suffering human being in pain. The lack of a stretcher in the lockup raises the issue of duty of care by the police to ensure that Ms Dhu was accorded dignity and treated humanely which she was not. Instead of being silenced, her condition should have been taken seriously and proper medical treatment provided regardless of the beliefs and diagnosis made by the police who are not medical ‘experts’ yet influenced the decisions, diagnosis and treatment made by the medical staff which ultimately resulted in her death. The coroner to conclude with no blame is to continue the racial narratives in this country which justify the legitimacy of deaths in custody and fail to hold accountable the actions or lack of by police and health professionals whose beliefs and decisions ultimately contributed to the death of Ms Dhu.
Dr. Dawn Bessarab is a senior social worker and researcher who has 30 years’ experience and expertise in Aboriginal health and has worked in the areas of justice, alcohol and drug abuse, violence and community development. She is a strong advocate of social justice and human rights.