Home LATEST NEWS Cop on trial for murder of Aboriginal teenager in Australia

Cop on trial for murder of Aboriginal teenager in Australia

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Zachary Rolfe is accused of shooting dead 19-year-old Kumanjayi Walker in a remote Outback town in 2019, a high-profile case that sparked a wave of protests across the country.

Mr Rolfe, 30, pleaded not guilty. In Australia, a growing number of voices are being raised to warn of the high number of indigenous people who have died in police custody.

More than 500 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in police custody since 1991 (11 of them in the past seven months), when detailed records were compiled.

Despite several public inquiries and trials into similar cases, no Australian police officer has ever been convicted of the murder of an Aboriginal person in custody.

Given the increased focus on deaths in custody in Australia and the Black Lives Matter movement, I think people are using [ce procès] as a litmus test of whether the courts can deliver justice to First Nations families. »

A quote from Thalia Anthony, Professor of Law at Sydney University of Technology

In a surprise ruling last November, Australia’s High Court blocked Zachary Rolfe’s attempt to argue that he had acted sincerity during the fatal shooting.

No police officer found guilty so far

Experts say the move removed a key legal defense available to serving police officers and makes a conviction more likely.

Several other police officers have already been charged with murder before being acquitted or having the charges dropped.

Zachary Rolfe will stand trial in Darwin, some 1,500 kilometers north of the community of Yuendumu, where Kumanjayi Walker died on November 9, 2019.

According to court documents, Rolfe and another officer entered a house in order to arrest Mr Walker for allegedly breaching bail and told the young man to put his hands behind his back.

Instead, the young man reportedly injured the officer in the shoulder with a pair of scissors and a struggle ensued during which Mr Rolfe fired three shots at Mr Walker.

The teenager died that night at Yuendumu police station; four days later, the officer was charged with murder. The death of the young Aborigine sparked a wave of protests across Australia demanding Justice for Walker.

An emblematic trial

Mr. Rolfe’s trial has long been delayed by pretrial proceedings and the COVID-19 pandemic.

When he begins on Monday, the prosecution will seek to argue that the officer acted unlawfully by shooting Mr Walker three times. Although the defense in good faith is rejected, Mr. Rolfe can still rely on two major legal arguments: that he acted reasonably or in self-defence.

According to Thalia Anthony, this case will likely draw attention to clauses in Australian law that offer immunity to police officers. I think we’re really going to see an upsurge in campaigns against these special immunities, she said.

The trial will also inevitably spark a debate about the high rate of incarceration among Indigenous Australians – who are believed to be the most imprisoned people in the world – and the question of police oversight.

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