This young boy’s death is a tragedy of epic proportions. It contains all the elements of the deep-seated problems that surround the social, economic and racial problems that plague the aboriginal communities of Australia.
Elijah Doughty was killed when the motorbike he had stolen was hit by a ute driven by the bike’s owner who claimed he was trying to recover his bike. The driver of the ute was recently given a three-year sentence for dangerous driving causing death, a decision which the local aboriginal community thinks is manifestly inadequate.
The ABC reports Petrine James, the mother of 14-year-old Aboriginal boy Elijah Doughty, has spoken for the first time publicly to 7.30 about the loss of her son.
“That it’s alright for people to go out and do what they want to do, by taking the law into their own hands,” she said. “I think everybody should come together. Not just Aboriginal people, everybody. This is not about racial issues, it’s much more than that.”
Ms James had to deal with the news from a prison cell. Ms James has been in and out of the criminal justice system since she was a teenager and has struggled with drug and alcohol addiction. The last time she was sentenced for multiple burglary and stealing offences, the judge criticised the as being inadequate.
Where you start with a problem like this?
Once upon a time, there might’ve been a chance. Perhaps.
But as a systems theorist, I know that the individual has very little chance when they are placed in a system that the system is structured in such a way that the individual’s characteristics, no matter how positive and strong, really give them very little chance.
And in Elijah Doughty’s case, the cards were probably stacked against from the start. But somehow, resilient systems needed to be built around those two small children in the photo.
The television will be covering the protests in the major cities where the local aboriginal communities will travel and be protesting the injustice of the verdict in this particular case. And there will be a lot of anger. Justifiable anger. But while understandable, there is probably very little point to this.
There will also be coverage of the deep-seated endemic nature of the economic and social systems that produces particular type of problem. Let it be hoped that this will bring you some long-term and thoughtful policy solutions to this tragic problem.
There has also been coverage of the riots in Kalgoorlie after Elijah Doughty’s death.
There was also a shot of a young aboriginal boy jumping onto a police vehicle and smashing the windows with the rock. He looks as if he’s about 12 or 13. Probably the same age as Elijah Doughty. He probably now has rockstar status amongst his peers.
And these images really sum up the problem.
Until we find some way of dealing with the anger of that 12-year-old boy, we’re not going to stop him stealing motorbikes. And were not going to stop the owners chasing him.
Because there is another side to the Elijah Doughty story.
It’s the story of the people who live in the rural towns and from whom Petrine James and Elijah Doughty steal things. They’re the people who live with the lawlessness and disorder on pension days. They are predominantly white, working class and often not particularly rich. And they don’t like having their motorbikes stolen and houses broken into. And they are frustrated by the fact that the police are more or less powerless to deal with teenage crime.
These people don’t get on television and they don’t riot and the don’t demonstrate. But they are also part of the problem because they represent, and are represented by, law and order, the police, prisons and detention systems.
And it may be surprising to realise, these people probably vote for Pauline Hanson.
So one of the profound difficulties is that beyond the major cities, there may not be much sympathy for the plight of Petrine James nor much appetite for adopting more enlightened and better funded approaches to the problems that plague our rural communities.