#JusticeforCassius; Mourning Filep Karma
Across the country, thousands turned up in solidarity with the family of Cassius Turvey. Meanwhile, in West Papua, our Indigenous brothers and sisters mourned the loss of their father.
Last night, across the country, from Perth to Brisbane, from Adelaide to Cairns, from Sydney to Melbourne, thousands upon thousands gathered in public space to mourn the loss of yet another young black life. Cassius Turvey, a 15-year-old Aboriginal teenager who ran a lawn mowing business, suffered an assault that left him with injuries so severe he died ten days later, surrounded by his grieving family. He had simply been walking home from school. The alleged perpetrator has been charged with murder.
The nation-wide vigils had been led by black women - most notably Cassius’ mother Mechelle Turvey, and organisers Megan Krakouer and Marienne Headland Mackay in Perth. It is the black mothers who pull everyone together in a collective display of mourning. Mechelle told media that she felt “like I’m sharing my son with everyone… even people that didn’t know him. My son was an amazing young boy, we have lots of amazing young people in our community…”
On the way into the Meanjin rally, as I was held up in traffic, I saw a car drive up beside me. It was covered in Aboriginal flags, and proclaimed in white lettering ‘no more racism’ ‘justice for Cassius!’. In the heart of colonised space, in the cities that were built upon the idea of black absence and disappearance, we came together to say ‘we are here’, and we are not going away.
But even as we gathered in public space, there was the reality that we all know: our kids are not safe in public space. This is not a ‘fact’ that should not be a fact, but it is a “fact” that has been secured by violence - the violence that ended young Cassius’ life, and the violence that sees black children targeted for police surveillance.
Wakka Wakka and South Sea Islander man Kevin Yow Yeh spoke of this at the Meanjin rally when he said:
“We keep having to come here. When does it end? They keep killing us. Because that’s the design of this place.
“What we seen happen last month to this young fella Cassius… When is enough enough?
“If our kids can’t walk home from school safely, then where can they walk home from? When our kids leave for school in the morning, we all think they’re coming back. And we should think that.
“(Australia) is founded on the idea of a racial hierarchy of which black people are down the very bottom… and that’s how they justified the ongoing violence that we have to experience and live with.
“And this is why it’s important that when these motherfuckers take out our people, and our kids, and ESPECIALLY, our kids, we have to turn up. We need to turn up and tell them we’re here”.
At the Meanjin rally, as we came together in the absence of a young black child, there was the notable presence of other young black children, in their school uniforms. One school, the Aboriginal independent school Hymba Yumba, had brought a bus-load of children in - an idea led by their school captain and supported by the staff and teachers.
As I thought of the leadership of this small, black school, I also thought of the fact that this is an event that our kids should never have to take part in - they should feel safe in their school uniforms. They should not have to learn this lesson too early. And yet, even as they learn it, they turn up for their young brother. They sat, quietly, at the front of the rally, with their signs of solidarity, and they spoke with conviction and purpose to a crowd of thousands. The power is not only in the black mothers but also in the black children.
Rest in Peace Filep Karma: “The history of our struggle lived with him”
As we mourned for Cassius across Australia, in West Papua - occupied by Indonesia, Indigenous peoples mourned for their lost father. Filep Karma was one of West Papua’s most famous political prisoners and an activist and leader of international stature. He died this week and activists have called for an independent investigation. November 1 was pronounced a national day of mourning.
West Papuan independent leader and exiled resident of the United Liberation Movement for West Papua Benny Wenda said in a statement:
Filep was a great leader and a great man. Across his life, he held many roles and won many accolades – he was a ULMWP Minister for Indonesian and Asian affairs, a Nobel Peace Prize nominee, and the longest serving peace advocate in an Indonesian jail.
But he was first of all a frontline leader, present at every single protest, reassuring and inspiring all West Papuans who marched or prayed with him. Filep was there at the Biak Massacre in 1998, when 200 Papuans, many of them children, were murdered by Indonesian military.
Despite being shot several times in the leg that day, his experience of Indonesian brutality never daunted him. He continued to lead the struggle for liberation, whether in prison or in the streets. For West Papuans, Filep was equivalent to Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King. The history of our struggle lived within him.
Filep was a former Indonesian civil servant. After witnessing first-hand how the highest ranks of the Indonesian state treated West Papuans, he gave up a lucrative salary and comfortable life to help lead the struggle. His dedication to West Papua, his commitment and courage, was demonstrated by this enormous sacrifice.
Filep stood for justice, democracy, for peace and non-violent resistance. Despite this, he was jailed for 11 years for raising the Morning Star flag; we can see how Indonesia treats peacemakers.
Even now, they cannot even let us grieve in peace. As thousands of West Papuans took to the streets to honour Filep as a father, Indonesian soldiers blocked their way with heavy weaponry. As supporters said their final farewells while carrying Filep’s coffin to his house, police snatched their Morning Star flags away. How would Indonesians feel if their national hero’s funeral procession was disrupted and disrespected in this way? This response demonstrates the endemic racism at the heart of Indonesia’s occupation Filep spent his life fighting. They see us ‘monkeys’ – as ‘half-animals’, as his book described it.
“The big question is this: how did Filep die? We know he drowned while surfing, despite being a skilled diver. We know that there were four Indonesians with him when he died, but we don’t know if any of them have given testimony.”
Last night, West Papuans mourned en masse. Human rights lawyer Veronica Korman said on Twitter that it was difficult to even estimate the numbers who turned out to mourn at his funeral. The death of Filep Karma, despite its significance has not led national or international news. It is barely a blip on the media’s radar. And yet his death is of huge significance. Filep Karma was one of the most respected Indigenous leaders in the world, - and we must ask ourselves - why, despite the displays of thousands of West Papuans who are in grief, is there this silence?