The head of the Australian commission responsible for investigating the abuse of indigenous children in detention resigned on Monday, after rallies for indigenous rights swept the country over the weekend.
Thousands of people protested for the rights of indigenous people in major cities across Australia, after video surfaced showing the abuse of Aboriginal teens at the juvenile detention center Don Dale in the country’s Northern Territory. The video shows the teens being shackled to chairs, tear-gassed, and stripped naked.
The video, which was shown on the investigate program Four Corners last week and features footage filmed from 2010–2015, has sparked a national uproar. Shortly after the video was released, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull announced that a royal commission will conduct an investigation of the detention center where the abuse took place. Retired Northern Territory judge Brian Martin cited a lack of support from the country’s Aboriginal leaders in his resignation on Monday, and an Aboriginal leader and a retired judge were subsequently appointed to the commission.
Protesters across Australia have taken to social media using #HandsOffAaboriginalKids and #ShutDownDonDale to organize marches and rallies demanding that Don Dale be closed and the criminal justice system reformed. Images from the rallies include signs bearing the words “I can’t breathe,” a rallying cry which has been used by the Black Lives Matter movement.
Demonstrators engaged in civil disobedience at the rallies, with some protesters in Melbourne staging a “lock-in” on Saturday, in which they sat in an iron cage with their necks locked to the makeshift jail cell. Marchers also occupied an intersection for at least 11 hours, including overnight. Police eventually moved in and shut down the demonstration, forcibly removing the people from their makeshift cage while protesters shouted “Shut down Don Dale.” About 1,000 people participated in the protest in Melbourne.
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) July 30, 2016
Many of the rallies across the country were organized by the Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance, an organization that advocates for an end to the colonization of Aboriginal communities, and has called for an end to the detention of Aboriginal children.
Other Aboriginal leaders also spoke out against the treatment of the kids in the video. Aboriginal Tent Embassy Founder Jenny Munro told a crowd of about 400 ralliers at a town hall in Sydney that “You can see once again how vulnerable our people are at the hands of the state,” while Indigenous elder Ken Canning called on Australians to help hold those in power accountable. “Stop it now. Demand that all institutions holding our children be investigated immediately,” he said.
— Prison_Health (@Prison_Health) August 1, 2016
Dylan Voller, one of the kids who was detained at Don Dale, released a statement via his lawyers praising the protests. “Dylan Voller has asked us to thank everybody for their demonstrations of support, however, he wants to send a special message to any protesters. Dylan wants all protesters to refrain from any violent or threatening behaviour,” the statement read. Voller’s lawyer also recently released a handwritten letter written by Voller thanking the community for its support. Voller is now in a prison for adults where he has said he doesn’t feel safe because there are guards there who worked at Don Dale.
Aboriginal rights activists have previously protested the disproportionate representation of Aborigines in the criminal justice system and their mistreatment and abuse by police officers. Indigenous Australians, especially teens, are imprisoned at a much higher rate than non-Indigenous people. Between 1980 and 2011, 449 Indigenous Australians died while in police custody.
Rachel Cain and Evan Popp are interns at ThinkProgress.