On 22 December three prison guards at Wacol Youth Detention Centre in Brisbane brutally bashed 11-year-old Aboriginal boy Denzel, leaving him hospitalised. Denzel’s father Morris described the extent of the injuries at a protest rally on 5 January, saying, “three male officers brutally assaulted my child…gave him two black eyes…and sent him up to Ipswich Hospital in handcuffs.”
News of the bashing reached Denzel’s family when he contacted his mother Beverly by phone in the evening of 22 December. In an interview with Indigy Bris 4zzz FM Beverly re-told Denzel’s account of the bashing: “it was lock-down time and the guard walked in and told him to come out of the room and Denzel said ‘No, I’m gonna have a sleep after I eat this ice-block’.
“When he walked out they were holding his arms, and they had his arms tight so he was trying to move and they pulled his legs from underneath him and he fell on his face and then they grabbed his hair and slammed his head into the floor.”
Beverly says he wasn’t taken to a hospital until three days later despite suffering serious injuries that included a facial fracture. Denzel’s face appears bloodied, severely swollen with two black eyes in a shocking photo taken by the correctional centre nurse and obtained by the family’s lawyer.
To add to the cruelty, the Child Protection department are refusing to let Denzel return to his family after he was released on bail, ordering him into foster care.
Protest for justice
Family and supporters rallied on the steps of Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s office to demand justice on 27 December while Denzel was still in Wacol on remand.
The protestors called for an inquiry into the bashing and for the staff responsible to be charged and stood down. A representative from the Palaszczuk government came out to address the crowd and promised to act on their demands.
The demand “justice for Denzel” was raised again on 5 January when elders, activists and supporters came together in Brisbane’s Post Office Square to commemorate the anniversary of the death of Indigenous resistance fighter Dundalee, captured and hanged in the Square in 1855.
Denzel’s father Morris addressed the crowd, saying, “How does that make me and his family feel to know two days before Christmas, my son, their child, is getting bashed by these officers… We need justice in our communities, we need justice for our people.” Child Protection explained Denzel’s injuries to his father with the claim that guards had slipped and “fallen” on Denzel.
Denzel’s bashing is an example of the systematic brutalisation young Aboriginal people face in the juvenile detention system.
A report tabled in the NT Parliament in September 2015 found that NT corrections staff at Don Dale Juvenile Detention Centre had tear gassed juveniles in their cells in August 2014. The gassing was in response to an alleged “riot”, but several of the inmates were playing cards when gassed. Film shows that during the incident, as one youth tried to escape, a laughing prison officer armed with a riot shield and padding said he would “pulverise the little f***er”.
In September 2015, an Aboriginal boy called Travis told a youth forum that staff at Don Dale had used chocolate bars to bribe inmates into fighting each other. In one case staff used food to pressure a boy into eating faeces, filmed it and shared it on social media. NT Attorney-General John Elferink confirmed police were investigating the allegations.
This is the reality of a “justice” system that is incarcerating Aboriginal youth at an unprecedented rate, ripping communities apart and creating yet another stolen generation, alongside the rapidly escalating removal of children by “child protection” agencies (see page 6). In June 2015 Amnesty International found Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander youth were 24 times more likely to be locked up than the rest of the population. In WA they were found to be 53 times more likely to be behind bars.
By Adam Adelpour