Five men responsible for killing a young Aboriginal man, Kwementyaye Ryder, were recently given sentences of between 12 months and six years by an Alice Springs Court. The initial murder charges were downgraded to manslaughter.
On the night of July 25 2009, the men drove through the Todd River bed in Alice Springs and terrorised itinerant Aboriginal campers.
The case found that they drove within one metre of an elderly camper and over the top of other swags. They didn’t apply breaks when driving through the camps. The men left the riverbed only to return with a gun. They fired blanks. A group of campers fled, fearing for their lives.
Kwementyaye Ryder, who was with one group of campers, responded by throwing a bottle that hit the side of the car. Four men left the vehicle. After Ryder fell to the ground they kicked him several times in the head. Then they smashed his head with a bottle. They left him lying motionless. He later died from his wounds.
In a disgraceful whitewash, Chief Justice Brian Martin ruled that these actions were “manslaughter by negligence” (rather than recklessness) and that the crime was at the “lower end of seriousness”.
The defense lawyer argued the attack was not racially motivated and that driving through itinerant camps was simply “part of youth culture in Alice Springs”. Prominent local figures like Mayor Damien Ryan were part of a push to deny any evidence of racism.
Justice Martin acknowledged an “atmosphere of antagonism towards Aboriginal persons” manifest in the attacks. But he did not count it as an aggravating factor that could harden up the sentence. In his judgement, Martin went out of his way to stress the “underlying good character” of the defendants.
During the sentencing, Ryder’s mother, Therese Ryder, wept and stormed out of the court. She summed up the case: “it was good [having the men charged] on the outside but inside there’s racism straight out.”
By Lauren Mellor