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Inside the NT Police: Racist Awards and Cover-Ups Uncovered (video)

On a November night, three gunshots marked the tragic end of an attempt to arrest Kumanjayi Walker in the remote community of Yuendumu. Almost five years later, an inquiry into the circumstances surrounding that fateful night has concluded.

Inside the NT Police: Racist Awards and Cover-Ups Uncovered

The coroner faces the daunting task of making sense of the events that unfolded, rooted in deep historical contexts.

The Coroner’s Inquest

The coroner’s inquest into Kumanjayi Walker’s death has been comprehensive, examining not just the immediate incident but also the broader implications and historical context.

The inquest has revealed significant details about the events of that night and the police conduct involved.

Zachary Rolfe’s Defense and Acquittal

Zachary Rolfe, the police officer involved, was acquitted of all criminal charges in 2022. The jury found that Rolfe acted in self-defense when he shot Walker three times after being stabbed with a pair of scissors.

Despite his acquittal, the coronial inquest called Rolfe back to the stand in February to address new questions about his past conduct and the broader culture within the Northern Territory (NT) police force.

Claims of Entrenched Racism

In a shocking revelation, Zachary Rolfe claimed that racism was deeply entrenched within the NT police force.

He highlighted the existence of a controversial annual award given within an elite unit, the Tactical Response Group (TRG), known as the “N***** of the Year” award. This award, along with other racist practices, was part of the evidence presented to the coroner.

TRG’s Controversial Award

The inquest revealed that the TRG had an annual informal awards ceremony, where offensive and racist awards were handed out. One such award, the “N***** of the Year” award, involved a trophy made from an object seized from an Aboriginal community.

The court saw images of the trophy and certificates depicting minstrel shows, a racist form of entertainment where white performers painted their faces black.

Testimonies and Apologies

Sergeant Lee Bowens, who was a runner-up for the award in 2007, testified about the nature of the award, admitting it was linked to racist stereotypes. He expressed remorse for participating, describing the events as “stupid jokes.”

However, the seriousness of the matter was underscored by the testimonies and the offensive nature of the awards.

NT Police Commissioner’s Response

Michael Murphy, the NT Police Commissioner, was questioned about his knowledge of the awards. Initially, Murphy denied awareness of the awards, but it was later revealed that he had been informed during a meeting in August.

Murphy admitted to not treating the information with the seriousness it deserved and acknowledged that his previous denial was incorrect.

Broader Implications and Reforms

The inquest highlighted the systemic nature of racism within the NT police force. Despite the claims of individual accountability, the broader institutional issues were clear.

The NT government has committed to reviewing systemic racism within its agencies, including the police. This review, however, has been partially conducted by internal investigators, raising concerns about its impartiality.

Calls for External Review

There have been calls for an external and thorough review of systemic racism within the NT police force. The NT Attorney General’s office has stated that the Anti-Discrimination Commission will conduct a broader review, but the effectiveness and independence of this review remain critical.

Moving Forward

As the inquest wraps up, the family of Kumanjayi Walker and the broader community are looking towards the future. They seek recognition of the inherent violence and racism within these institutions and hope for genuine change that will allow them to process their healing and ensure safety for Aboriginal people.


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