28 June 2019

The Victorian coroner has agreed to consider what role ‘systemic racism’ played in the death of Tanya Day — an Aboriginal woman who died in police custody following her arrest for falling asleep on a train. Her daughter, Apryl Watson, distilled the issue powerfully in a statement to the court: “I do believe that she would have been treated differently if she was white.” The coroner agreed to allow expert evidence on the concept of systemic racism, and to allow witnesses to be questioned about how it may have affected their decisions. Needless to say, Victoria Police resisted this move, even whinging that “to the extent she may have been discriminated against, the term ‘indirect discrimination on the basis of race’ was preferred to ‘systemic racism’.” Lawyer Tamar Hopkins of the Police Accountability Project was not surprised: “I don’t think that Victoria Police or any police forces around Australia have a real concept of what that means. Police generally consider racism to be that really bad apple, extreme, someone actually calling someone a racially derogatory term … whereas systemic racism goes far deeper.” The Victorian coroner may soon teach them a lesson.