Whitlam Institute

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

What Matters 2019 Shortlist

All Lives Matter

All Lives Matter

Shirley Wang

Year 9, Meriden School

Grief surged with every expelled breath, never sufficiently soothed by her long intakes of the damp autumn air.  Her body had a spindly look to it - as if she worked too long or ate too poorly.  She was a frightfully jaundiced creature, her face like a piece of yellowing ivory. Her coat and tall brown boots were caked with filth. She looked as if the nimbus of humanity was fading away.  Tendrils grew from her eyebrows and coarse white hairs sprouted on her head. All pretence of quiet coping was lost as she sank into the bench, uncaring about the water that quickly soaked her to the skin. Her subdued, greyish fingers clasped his photograph.  In there, he stood, stalwart as an oak.  His wiry grey and black hair was drenched in sweat after playing games of rugby.  His face obscured by a scraggly beard that clung onto his skin like winter-ravaged ivy tendrils.  He was smiling.  And why shouldn't he?  He was an A-grade student headed for university, the first in the family. 

She recalled that day when the cop came. The susurration of footsteps approached behind them. They turned and saw a man in crisp blue uniform.  The two men joined in a smouldering stare.  The cop felt his thoughts gnarl together as the temptation to hurt him poisoned his bloodstream.  All the cop saw was black skin, not a man of substance, of a heart and flesh, blood and bones.  She huddled against the reassuring body of him.  She felt his arms lose tension and his legs begin to weaken.  A shot of pain ran up his body, a scream escaping his pale lips as pain's bitter, savage blasts cut right to his bones, gripping onto them in its freezing claws.  Searing, fiery bursts pulsated around the wound, a relentless flow of garish crimson. With each dragging second, his pain intensified, jarring and brutal; his consciousness ebbed.  His will had left him.  He was giving up...

She looked up at the transgressor.  A fire still danced in his eyes, but it was a quieter one now, not the rabid-animal savagery of before.   It was a fire of hate.

Since the country's inception, heightened levels of violence have been perpetrated against Indigenous Australians, with many being arrested for trivial offences.  The depiction of minorities as deviants with innately criminal dispositions has facilitated their marginalisation and has condoned the police's use of excessive force, on par with lynching.  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander prisoners account for just over a quarter (28%) of the adult prison population (Russell, 2018), and yet, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians constitute only 2% of the total Australian population (ABS, 2018).  This is a national shame.  Indigenous people are 17.3 times more likely to be arrested than non-Indigenous people (Australian Human Rights Commission, n.d.). Half of the 10- to 17-year-olds in jail are Aboriginal (Korff, 2019).

The relationship between Indigenous Australians and the police has always been one fraught with racial prejudice.  And yet, officers are often exonerated, commended or even promoted after questionable behaviour. Year after year, this incarceration epidemic intensifies, but little has been done to ameliorate it. 

What matters to me is justice.  What matters to me equality before the law because all lives matter.  Because “I think there's just one kind of folks.  Folks.” (Lee, 1960,p.231).