Almost 30 years on from the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, there have been at least 500 Black deaths in custody and not a single criminal conviction for those responsible. Families who experience the injustice of Black deaths in custody must deal with a whole range of procedural, media and campaigning issues, as well as legal decisions, at a time when they are still grieving and in shock. This creates great financial strain at an already difficult time. Families have to wait an average of three years for the coronial process, and that is just the beginning of their fight for justice. Often a family’s sole source of non-government support when going through this process comes from setting up an online crowdfunding campaign. Those not comfortable making a public plea for support face going it alone. In order to achieve institutional change, community-led infrastructure needs to be established so families can be supported to fulfil their potential as powerful advocates.
Families whose loved ones have died in custody have been leading the way for change to end this injustice since colonisation. Even without formal support systems, families have fundraised and secured pro bono legal, advocacy and campaigning support. Most significantly, the advocacy of these families are leading real change and we must support and uplift these families that have the lived experience. An example of why this is essential is the Justice for Tanya Day campaign. Aunty Tanya Day’s family’s advocacy has recently resulted in a commitment from the Victorian Government to abolish the offence of public drunkenness. The Dhadjowa Foundation is now being established to leverage the current public support for this work and provide a coordinated approach to assisting families.