Search

Systemic racism at play, says lawyer

Updated: Nov 5, 2020

The lawyer of an Aboriginal man who was the victim of a 'miscommunication' locked up in a Victorian prison and later released, believes that systemic racism was to blame


The lawyer of an Aboriginal man who was the victim of a 'miscommunication' locked up in a Victorian prison and later released, believes that systemic racism was to blame.


Dwayne Kennedy, a Yorta Yorta and Mutti Mutti man and brother to Veronica Nelson, who died in custody just months ago, is facing several charges in relation to allegedly stealing items from retailers in Melbourne's inner north.


He did not attend court on the day of his hearing because his lawyers had apparently been told by court staff that he was not required to attend due to COVID-19 social distancing restrictions. 


The prosecutor then asked for an arrest warrant to be issued, and he was arrested and placed in a cell the same day. 


He spent two weeks on remand in a Melbourne prison, while his lawyer, Tessa Theocharous of Kurnai Legal Practice, frantically helped him apply for bail. It was denied twice before it was taken to the Supreme Court.


He was immediately bailed by Justice Stephen Kaye, with no opposition from prosecutors. Justice Kaye called the fiasco "most unfortunate".


"I think that racism definitely played a part in how the police dealt with Dwayne. I think we know that Indigenous people face systemic racism in the justice system, especially in their dealings with Victoria Police," Ms Theocharous said.


"This is a classic example of how police have the ability to, when they have a discretionary power, how they still use that discretionary power in such a prejudicial way against Indigenous people."


She said throughout the entire ordeal Victoria Police made life difficult for her and Mr Kennedy.


"Right from the start of their dealings with him, they made very unfair decisions when they didn't need to. They made very unfair applications before the court, and they consistently opposed bail before the court," she said.


"I think we should all be really concerned that he has been treated in this way and that the justice system has failed him so terribly at every turn, and it wasn't until we got to the supreme court that the police acknowledged that they shouldn't have been opposing bail."

Victoria Police also gave Mr Kennedy a COVID-19 infringement for sleeping on a park bench when they came to arrest him.


When approached by NITV News for comment, Victoria Police said that they couldn't comment on individual cases, but that police are using discretion "where appropriate".


"Victoria Police respects and treats all members of the community equally, regardless of their nationality, race, culture, sex, gender or age," a Victoria Police spokesperson said.


7 views