Six months ago, filmmaker Cornel Ozies was walking to his job at Sydney University when he was stopped by police because they said he fit the description of a wanted man.
- ‘Our Law’ documents Australia’s only entirely Aboriginal-staffed Police station
- Surry Hills arrest of Indigenous teen painful reminder of divisions
- Listening, respect and education key to improving Aboriginal-Police relations
He had a different name but was detained for over 30 minutes while officers performed a background check.
Mr Ozies remembered feeling the eyes of the people at his local cafe on him.
“I thought ‘I’ve already been racially profiled’ and these are people who see me everyday, they’re going to see me as a criminal,” he said.
It is a memory that comes to the director’s mind when discussing his latest film, Our Law, set to air at the Sydney Film Festival next week.
The documentary follows officers of Australia’s only entirely Indigenous-staffed police station at Warakurna, in remote Western Australia.
The station is an attempt by WA Police to rebuild trust with Aboriginal communities after years of mistreatment and the deaths of hundreds of Indigenous people in custody.
But his recent interaction, and the violent arrest of an Indigenous teenager in Surry Hills earlier this week, are more reminders for Mr Ozies that broader divisions still exist.
Communication, education essential
At the heart of the problem, Mr Ozies said, is poor communication fuelled by three factors: a lack of trust, deeper listening and education.
Communication is a central theme to Our Law as officers Wendy Kelly and Revis Ryder, who are Noongar, from the Perth area, try to learn the local language Ngaanyatjarra.
Through their efforts, they develop a rapport with the local people, helping to coach the football team and learning about traditional medicine.
But painful reminders of the obstacles they were up against were never far away.
Midway through the filming, Aboriginal woman Ms Clarke was fatally shot by Police in Geraldton.
“It just hit the film set, everyone was staring off, horrified; it was a very hard moment for us,” Mr Ozies said.
During editing, Kumanjayi Walker was shot to death by an officer in the Northern Territory, sparking outrage across the country.
“We realised that this documentary was important because you have to show solutions,” Mr Ozies said.
“[But] you’re never going to change until you’re educated.
US protests reveal Australian ignorance
As Australians expressed shock at the protests against police brutality in the United States, Mr Ozies wondered how many people realised the depth of the problems in their own backyard.
“People are posting about America but they’re still blind to what is happening in Australia,” he said.
While he praised WA Police’s efforts to restore this “broken relationship”, Mr Ozies still cannot bring himself to trust the institution.
“My brother is currently serving in the WA Police Force and my stepmother retired after 25 years of policing, but I still don’t trust the police,” he said.
“Run-ins with officers all through my life have reinforced this understanding that there is an issue with how officers are educated with how to interact with Indigenous people.
Despite his reservations, he said the film shows that change is possible, if there is trust, genuine listening and education.
“That’s the beauty of what Wendy and Revis have done, they identified there is a communication break down, they learned the language and they can diffuse situations,” he said.
The film, supported by NITV and Screenwest, will air as part of the Sydney Film Festival from June 10 to 21.
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