Today saw demonstrations held in Sydney and elsewhere in response to the shooting by police of two unarmed, Indigenous teenagers – the driver and passenger of a stolen vehicle – in Sydney on Saturday night.
Police shot the 14 year old driver of the car in the chest and the arm. The front passenger, 17 years old, was shot in the neck. He also has broken ribs, which, if independent video footage is anything to go by, were likely sustained while he was in custody. A police officer can be seen dragging the 17yr old boy – bleeding from a gunshot wound to the neck – from the car, before beating him savagely about the face and head (punching him repeatedly with both fists). The police officer then drags the boy’s lifeless body by the arm, along the road and up onto the footpath where he leaves him, lying face down in a pool of his own blood.
I forced myself to watch the footage yesterday. I felt physically sick for hours. And then I heard about Kieffen Raggett  – and decided to write this post.
Learning about the circumstances surrounding the death of eight year old Kieffen Raggett has convinced me that we – all of us mob here in Australia – need to admit that we have a problem with entrenched and institutionalised racism in this country, and it’s a problem that we need to work urgently and immediately to address.
In her book Broken Circles (2000) Anna Haebich used the concept or expression, ‘a twilight of knowing’ to describe the collective ‘awareness’ yet apparent ‘not knowing’ of and about the incidents, events and policies that came to comprise – and are now collectively known as – the Stolen Generation. If that, then was the ‘twilight of knowing’ then this, now is surely the ‘bloodied and glaring sunlight of knowing.’ There is no excuse not to be more than aware of the level and extent of racism facing Indigenous Australians right now. We all live in full knowledge of the more-and-less recent incidents, events and policies born of this entrenched and institutionalised racism. It is impossible to ignore. We cannot say that we ‘did not know.’
Kieffen Owen Jayden Raggett (pictured above) was 8 years old when he went missing from his home in Borroloola on the 2nd of October 2007. He was found dead two days later, his body half submerged in a shallow, muddy, waterhole approximately 500 metres from his home. When his body was found investigating police ‘quickly concluded that the death was an accidental drowning following a fall’ (Inquest Findings 2011: 2). The matter was thus handed to a local police officer to complete a coronial file. This early decision, to classify the death as ‘non-suspicious’, was a critical point in the investigation:
‘Thereafter, the investigation was given neither the priority, nor the seniority of investigators, that it deserved. Minimum standards of investigation were not adhered to. Critical avenues of inquiry were overlooked and the circumstances surrounding this death were not considered systematically or comprehensively. The poor management of seized items and the crime scene resulted in evidence being compromised or destroyed’ (Inquest Findings 2011: 2).
The Inquest into Kieffen Raggett’s death, which took place three years after the incident (and the initial police investigation) found that ‘there was little that objectively validated the “accidental drowning” theory or that excluded the possibility of foul play.’
The Inquest Findings note:
1. The head lacerations were consistent with the young boy being struck on the back of the head;
2. The presence of at least 2 large rocks in the young boy’s shorts could not be adequately explained other than by the intervention of some other party. On this point the Inquest also notes:
‘When the body was moved Constable Jamie Peters saw a large rock about 15cm in diameter fall from the young boy’s shorts. Borroloola resident Stanley Allen Senior, who was watching from the bank, also saw a rock the size of a “bread and butter plate” and a couple of inches thick fall from the boy’s shorts. This rock (or rocks) was not seized. As the body was placed into a body bag, Sergeant Tim Perry and Constable Peters saw large rocks in the boy’s shorts.’
3. The young boy was not known to wander off alone and was thought to “be shy” of water;
4. Adult footprints were seen adjacent to the young boy’s footprints leading into bushland and around the waterhole;
5. There were no footprints at the presumed point from which he fell at the top of the embankment;
6. The barbed wire fencing at the top of the embankment, considered by police to be a possible cause of a fall, was not adjacent to that part of the waterhole where the body was found;
7. The toe prints in the side of the embankment, considered by police to have been possibly made during a fall, were not adjacent to where the body was found and were equally consistent with someone climbing out of the waterhole;
8. The young boy had been wearing a red singlet when last seen alive but was found bare-chested. A red singlet was found in bushland en route from the subdivision to the waterhole;
9. A XXXX beer can was found near the water’s edge of the waterhole. It was seized but not forensically tested until many months later. This XXXX can became significant when DNA extracted on it was found to match the DNA of a person on remand for child sex offences (Inquest Findings: 16). The inquest also heard evidence from the person whose DNA was located on the XXXX can. This person admitted that he owned a shirt similar to the one found by police in the waterhole, though he claimed to have lost the shirt some 20 months before the boy went missing. This – like so many other crucial factors and variables in this case – could not be tested and thus verified because of the lapse in time between the incident and any genuine, thorough investigation.
What could possibly motivate or lead police officers to actively dismiss and ultimately cover-up the murder of an eight-year-old child?
The same thing, I’d suggest, that might motivate or lead a police officer to drag a 17yr old boy – bleeding from a gunshot wound to the neck – from a car and beat him savagely about the face and head (punching him, repeatedly, with both fists). The same thing, I’d suggest, that might motivate or lead the residents of Darwin to refuse assistance to my 61 year-old adoptive Yolŋu brother as he bled to death over a period of three and a half hours. The same thing, I’d suggest, that motivated or led them to turn him away when he and his companion knocked on their doors for help. . . . The same thing, I’d suggest, that motivated or led them to swerve rather than stop when he and his companion desperately tried to wave them down as they drove by in their cars. . . . The same thing, I’d suggest, that stopped any of them, from even bothering to call an ambulance.
Yes, we have a problem with entrenched, institutionalised racism in this country. We need to work urgently and immediately to address it.
 Thanks to Michael Brull for posting a link to ‘Kieffen’s story’ on Twitter, which is how I stumbled across it. You can find the article here: Kieffen’s story: a boy killed, inept police, and still no answers
* * * * The Report of the Inquest into Kieffen Raggett’s death is available online here * * * *