An epidemic of white supremacy in the Queensland police force?

Photo credit: Kgbo – CC BY-SA 4.0

Queensland Police have come under fire after a whistleblower leaked audio recordings making racist remarks about Australian minorities earlier this month, forcing an apology. However, this incident cannot be seen as an anomaly, but rather follows a trend in a toxic environment that exists within Queensland Police.

Audio recordings showing a number of Australian police officers in the city of Brisbane openly expressing racist views of Black, Indian and Indigenous Australians and discussing Islamophobic theories about a Muslim white-majority takeover of European nations. During the talks, comments can be heard alluding to fears of minority groups allegedly taking over Australia, as well as remarks about the “beating and burying” of black people.

The comments, made by members of the Queensland Police Service (QPS), have since been condemned as “nauseating and disturbing” by QPS Acting Deputy Commissioner Mark Wheeler, and an apology has been issued. Days later, however, the Guardian revealed that Kerry Johnson, the QLD’s chief of police for its First Nations Unit, which deals with Aboriginal Australians, is now under investigation for alleged racism. Of over 300 commissioners in QPS, none identify themselves as Indigenous, delineating a clear lack of Aboriginal representation in the police force. In October, the second senior QPS official was also accused of using racist language against senior leaders of the state’s indigenous communities.

For many Black and Indigenous Australians, such statements, racist as they are, come as little surprise. According to Kevin Yow Yeh, director of the Institute for Collaborative Race Research, the leaked audio accurately reflects the views of Queensland Police. That’s them.”

A 22-year-old black woman, who went by the name Rihanna to protect her identity, spoke of her own routine harassment by Queensland police. She lives in the state of Queensland and has experienced physical and verbal abuse at the hands of white Australian supremacists. Rihanna says she feels “frustrated and purposeful” by QLD police harassment. When asked if she had reported hate crimes against her, she simply said she felt “it was pointless”.

She continued that “I routinely get pulled over by the police,” adding that “they always make me explain why I’m driving a car registered under a white woman, they could easily say it’s not racist.” but since when do you do it so often with others?”. To make car insurance cheaper, her husband registered the car with his mother, a white woman. This means that when police check the license plates, they see a white face and routinely stop Rihanna, suspecting she may have stolen the car. Rihanna’s husband Adam, who is also black, described the state of Queensland as “one of the most racist places on earth”. Sometimes people just come straight out and if you’re black here you know the police are just part of the racist system, just look at what they’re doing to the indigenous people here.

Commenting on the leaked footage, Adam said; “Just look at the comments under the articles that have appeared on this, almost all are from white Australians supporting what has been said by the police, their racism is plain to see and now the world has a glimpse of theirs actual feelings, not only the police, but also many white Australians”.

Although Queensland Police have repeatedly denied maintaining an environment of systemic racism, it is telling that in the recently leaked audio recordings, officers made racist remarks, seemingly without fear of being called out by colleagues. Brisbane Police Guard House is known for 24 hour audio and video recording. The natural follow-up question must then be, if these feelings shared by officers were unusual, why would they be so comfortable having such discussions, not just in a police facility, but one that records their every word.

Furthermore, the recently leaked audio recordings are far from the first QPS racism scandal. In July 2021, there was another scandal in which over 1,000 Queensland police officers were exposed as members of a Facebook group called “Defend the Blue,” which routinely made racist and sexist comments, prompting public outcry to reconcile the culture contact the state police. Later in October, an internal investigation reportedly exposed 11 officers for their racist and sexist remarks. The QPS stated that the officers were treated by their superiors, but not a single officer lost his job.

It is not just racist remarks by members of the QPS that label Nigerians as “Jigaboos” and portray Indigenous Australians as inferior people, but this culture of racism can lead to genuine violence against minority communities. In late 2020, protests erupted in Brisbane where police were accused of racial abuse after a 49-year-old Indigenous woman, Aunt Sherry Tilberoo, died in police custody. The last Indigenous Australian to die in QPS custody was in early November. At least 38 Aboriginal Australians died in police custody in Queensland between July 2005 and late 2020.

For too long this toxic environment has existed for Queensland’s minority communities. There needs to be a real examination of the culture of the Queensland police force, calls for greater representation also need to be heeded and the recent scandal cannot be ignored as an isolated case.