The Queensland police have come under fire after a whistleblower leaked audio recordings, earlier this month, in which racist remarks were made about Australian minority communities, forcing an apology. However this incident cannot be viewed as an anomaly, but rather following a trend in a toxic environment that exists within the Queensland police.
Audio recordings, in which a number of Australian police officers in the city of Brisbane were revealed to have openly expressed racist views about black people, Indians, aboriginal Australians and discussed Islamaphobic theories about a Muslim takeover of white majority European nations. Heard in the conversations are comments that allude to fears of minority groups that are supposedly taking over Australia, in addition to remarks about “beating and burying” black people.
The comments, made by members of the Queensland Police Service (QPS), have since been condemned as “sickening and disturbing” by QPS’s acting deputy commissioner Mark Wheeler and an apology has been issued. However, days later, the Guardian revealed that Kerry Johnson, the QLD’s police head for its First Nations Unit, that deals with Aboriginal Australians, is now under investigation for alleged racism. Out of over 300 commissioner officers in QPS, not a single one of them identifies as indigenous, clearly outlining a lack of Aboriginal representation in the police. In October, the second top officer in the QPS was also accused of using racialised language against elderly leaders of the State’s indigenous communities.
For many black and indigenous Australians, such remarks, as racist as they are, don’t come as much of a surprise. According to Kevin Yow Yeh, Director of the Institute for Collaborative Race Research, the leaked audio recordings accurately represent the views of the Queensland police, he stated that “It’s very common for QPS to have this kind of commentary coming out of their workplace..This is who they are.”
A 22-year-old black woman, choosing to go by the name Rihanna in order to protect her identity, spoke of her own routine harassment by the Queensland police. Living in the State of Queensland she has experienced physical and verbal abuse at the hands of White Australian racists. Rihanna says that the harassment she has faced at the hands of the QLD police makes her feel “frustrated and targeted”. When asked whether she has reported hate crimes perpetrated against her, she simply stated that she felt “there was no use”.
She went on to say that “I routinely get pulled over by the cops”, adding that “they always make me explain why I’m driving a car registered under a white woman, they could easily say it’s not racist, but since when do they do this so frequently with others?”. For purposes of making the car insurance less expensive, her husband registered the car under his mother who is a white woman. This means that when the police run the plates they will see a white face and routinely pull Rihanna over, suspecting that she may have stolen the car. Rihanna’s husband Adam, who is also black, described the State of Queensland as “one of the most racist places on earth”, he elaborated by saying that “a lot of the time the racism is through gaslighting and isn’t direct, but other times people just come straight out with it and if you are black here, you know the police are just part of the racist system, just look at what they do to the aboriginals here.”
Commenting on the leaked recordings Adam said; “Just look at the comments under the articles that have come out about this, almost all are from white Australians who support what had been said by the cops, their racism is clear to see and now the world has a glimpse into how they actually feel, not only the police but a lot of white Australians too”.
Although the Queensland police have repeatedly denied maintaining an environment of systemic racism, it is telling that the officers heard making racist remarks, in the recently leaked audio recordings, did so seemingly without fear of being called out by fellow officers. The Brisbane police watch house is known to be location where audio and video recordings are ongoing 24/7, the natural follow up question then has to be, if these sentiments shared by the officers were uncommon, why would they feel so comfortable to have such discussions,not only in a police facility, but one that is recording their every word.
In addition to this, the recently leaked audio recordings are not the first QPS racism scandal, far from it. In July 2021 there was another scandal, in which over 1,000 Queensland police officers were exposed as belonging to a Facebook group called ‘Defend the Blue’, where routine racist and sexist comments were made, prompting public calls to address the culture of the State police. Later that October, 11 officers were said to have been exposed for their racist and sexist remarks, in an internal investigation. The QPS stated that the officers were dealt with by their superiors, yet not a single officer lost their job.
It is not only that racist remarks have been made by members of the QPS, such as referring to Nigerians as “jigaboos” and painting indigenous Australians as inferior people, but this culture of racism can translate into real violence against minority communities. In late 2020 protests broke out in Brisbane, accusing the police of racist abuse, after a 49-year-old indigenous woman, Aunty Sherry Tilberoo, died in police custody. The latest indigenous Australian to die in QPS custody was in early November. At least 38 Aboriginal Australians died in Queensland police custody between July 2005 and the end of 2020.
For too long has this toxic environment existed for Queensland’s minority communities. There must be a genuine probe into the culture of the Queensland police force, calls for greater representation also must be heeded and the latest scandal cannot be ignored as a one-off case.