The director of a documentary exploring Australia’s first Indigenous-run police station says cops should learn First Nations culture at the training Academy.
‘Our Law’ is a glimpse at the nature of police work when Indigenous officers are able to work directly with Aboriginal communities. Director Cornel Ozies follows Noongar man Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder and Noongar woman Sergeant Wendy Kelly in their duties in Warakurna, a community more than 300km west of Uluru.
The documentary, a Sydney Film Festival Awards finalist, opens with Kelly and Ryder practicing the Ngaanyatjarra language.
Scenes include Kelly successfully defusing potential confrontations and elders gathering bush medicine for Ryder’s sore back. Warakurna is a community where you can safely hitch a ride to the local footy game in the back of a police wagon. The community’s respect for the local force is prevalent.
In light of ongoing Black Lives Matter protests following the death of George Floyd, a Black man killed by a white US police officer, and widespread condemnation of a NSW police officer’s violent arrest of an Indigenous teen - the film’s overarching themes are particularly pertinent in today’s socio-political climate. We’re left asking whether First Nations officers are the key to dismantling prejudiced police culture from within?
Ozies said creating positive relations between police and Aboriginal communities can happen if more cultural training starts early.
“It should happen at the academy,” Ozies told HuffPost Australia.
“There should be some sort of cultural confidence tool kit that should be embedded into the training at the academy so when officers do need to go out there and get into a situation where they have to deal with people of colour, they have a tool kit to draw upon to help defuse situations like what we see in the videos - like the poor kid in Surry Hills.”
Referring to the violent arrest of a 17-year-old Indigenous teenager this month, Ozies said cops must look to “bridge that communication gap” to avoid heated arguments and potential force.
“People wonder why I don’t trust the police” he said, adding that his brother, stepmother, grandfather and uncles have served in the police force.
“I don’t mistrust the officers in general, it’s the institution I don’t trust because of the embedded racism in the culture of police. Police wonder why Indigenous people are aggressive or hostile towards them, they’re not. They’re hostile towards an institution that enforced policies that are still traumatic to Indigenous people: Stolen Generations for example.”
HuffPost Australia understands the Queensland Police force offers recruits training on top line Indigenous issues and a one hour lecture from the cultural diversity unit. NSW Police Force did not immediately return HuffPost request for comment.
Although Ozies said he has had “great encounters with police” through community programs, he’s also been racially profiled. A lot.
“It was assumed that you were up to trouble if you were out and about at night,” he said of the constant profiling as a teenager. “I’d be pulled aside on my way home from the cinemas.”
It was only last year Ozies was pulled aside by officers in Sydney on his way to work because he “fit the description” of someone they were looking for. After showing his ID to prove his name was not the same as their suspect, he was kept for another 30 minutes in front of his local cafe where he enjoys coffee on Sundays so the cops could run “a background check”.
“If the description for their suspect was a white man between 30 and 40, would they stop every white male in that predominantly white neighbourhood to question them and run background checks on them?” he asked.
“That’d never happen. Those are the sort of interactions that don’t give you any hope.”
But Ozies is still hopeful.
While ‘Our Law’ was in production in Warakurna, elsewhere two First Nations people, Kumanjayi Walker and Joyce Clarke, were shot dead by police - tragedies that Ozies said left a “heaviness” on set. The shootings gave the director an even bigger urge to show how the Warakurna system is a blueprint to a potential pathway to restoring relationships.
“That was the moment we realised the importance of the doco and the importance of repairing this trust with the Indigenous community and the police force,” he said.
“It solidified how important it is to show a success story”
Audiences can watch ‘Our Law’ on NITV on Karla Grant Presents on Monday 22 June at 8.30pm or purchase tickets to an early virtual screening at Sydney Film Festival, running online from 10 – 21 June 2020.