This Good Friday, Laura Tharion challenges us to embrace and protect all sacred spaces and places.
Many of you would be aware from my previous writings with Common Grace that my friend’s brother, Wayne Fella Morrison, died in custody in South Australia in 2016. Wayne Fella’s story is one of the unfathomable 147 Aboriginal deaths in custody from just the last 10 years.1
Last week I had the opportunity to sit with my friend at Wayne Fella’s coronial inquest, and I saw and heard, firsthand, how broken this system is. As I watched an exhibit of a spit mask (spithood) – I felt physically ill. As I listened to people who witnessed an Aboriginal man die and say over and over again “I can’t recall, I can’t recall, I can’t recall” – I felt angry. As I sat next to a mother and sister who lost their loved one – I cried. As a Christian, I prayed – in that moment sitting in the Coroner’s Court – it felt like the only thing I could do was pray.
As I walked out of the courtroom I passed the Court Chaplain’s office and I picked up the Word for Today, turning to the day’s date. “The Way Up Is Down” – ‘He took the humble position’ Philippians 2:7”. It continued, “That’s why He allows you to walk through situations that bring you to the place of utter dependence on Him.” The system that I watched, listened, and sat through, forced me to my knees in prayer and for the sake, the lives, and the future of my peoples, I was brought to utter dependence on Papa Jesus, the great Healer.
My Christian brothers and sisters, I need you to pray with me.
Next Wednesday, the 26th of September, will be the anniversary of Wayne Fella Morrison’s death*, and I am calling the church to prayer – praying for truth and transparency, praying with Jesus for justice, and praying for listening and acting.
This week I’ve reached out to friends in every capital city and they have agreed to host prayer vigils at their churches across the country:
- Adelaide Prayer Vigil at Pilgrim Uniting Church
- Alice Springs Prayer Vigil location TBC
- Brisbane Prayer Vigil at St Andrew's Anglican Church
- Canberra Prayer Vigil at St Simon's Anglican Church
- Darwin Prayer Vigil at Darwin Memorial Uniting Church
- Hobart Prayer Vigil at St David's Anglican Cathedral
- Melbourne Prayer Vigil at The Welsh Church
- Perth Prayer Vigil at Wesley Uniting Church
- Port Augusta Prayer Vigil at Port Augusta UAICC
- Sydney Prayer Vigil at Newtown Mission
Aboriginal deaths in custody have been researched, and reported, since the year of my birth, 1980. When I was 11 years old, the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody handed down its report. This Royal Commission investigated 99 Aboriginal deaths in custody from 1980 to 1991. Since 1991 there had been an additional 407 Aboriginal deaths in custody. In the last week we added another three to this total, taking it to now 510 Aboriginal lives lost in custody.
The devastation is that the 1991 Royal Commission produced 339 recommendations – only a handful have ever been implemented. I’m scared to ask the question how many deaths could have been prevented, how many lives protected, if all the recommendations had been implemented.
There is much more to be said on this issue, and in the coming weeks and months we will calling the church to action. But right now, we need to gather together in our cities, and pray breakthrough and justice for Aboriginal deaths in custody.
As Common Grace we are a movement of over 40,000 Australian Christians passionate about Jesus and Justice. We are prayers. It is time to pray.
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Brooke Prentis is the Aboriginal Spokesperson for Common Grace.
* We also acknowledge next week is the 35th anniversary of the death of John Pat – a 16 year old boy who was killed in a fight with WA police. A Royal Commissioner in 1991 acknowledged that "The death of John Pat became for Aboriginal people nation wide a symbol of injustice and oppression.”
1 Deaths Inside: Indigenous Australian Deaths in Custody, The Guardian, August 2018