What the Law Saw: Repertoires of Violence and Regimes of Impunity

This essay, by Suvendrini Perera and Joseph Pugliese, is an immediate response to two recent events, the release of the findings into the death in custody of Ms Dhu in the week before Christmas 2016, and the death in custody of Manus Island refugee, Faysal Ishak Ahmed, on Christmas Eve. As in the case of other deaths in the custody of the state, these were not sudden and unforeseeable events, but the outcome of a range of violent practices—denial, delay, accusations of malingering, verbal and physical abuse, misdiagnosis, non-diagnosis, active neglect—by the state and its agents, including its healthcare practitioners. In these instances, a store of visual as well as other documentary evidence bears witness to the repertoires of gestural violence enacted on racialised bodies. Yet how does this evidence become visible in and to law?

 

Type: 

Theme: 

Image: 

Issues: 

1 Comment

Racialised Violence, Law and Deaths in Custody

In these preliminary notes written shortly after the coronial findings into Ms Dhu’s death were released, we are concerned with what the law sees when it is presented with evidence of official violence against racialised bodies in custody. The records of racialised deaths in custody are an archive of such repertoires of gestural violence that remain outside the purview of the law.

These repertoires of violence are becoming increasingly visible as they are recorded by screen technologies such as CCTV. Yet, as we have discussed elsewhere, so profoundly entrenched is the institutional racism that transpires within the police cells, corridors, vans and triage areas that Aboriginal or refugee victims traverse that the CCTV cameras become virtual accomplices in the crimes perpetrated against the victims of police violence (Perera and Pugliese 2016, Perera 2016).

Our writing of this commentary was interrupted by news of the death on Christmas Eve 2016 of Faysal Ishak Ahmed, aged 27, a refugee from Sudan held on Manus Island. As with the fatalities of Hamid Khazaei, a 24 year-old Kurdish Iranian refugee from Manus Island, and Omid Masoumali, a 22 year-old held on Nauru, Faysal’s death occurred after a lethal delay in airlifting him to Australia for urgent medical care. All these deaths in the custody of the state occurred not as sudden and unforeseeable events, but as the outcome of a range of violent practices—denial, delay, accusations of malingering, verbal and physical abuse, misdiagnosis, non-diagnosis, active neglect—by the state and its agents, including its healthcare practitioners. In all of these instances, a store of visual as well as other documentary evidence bears witness to the repertoires of gestural violence enacted on racialised bodies.