At one stage on Friday during the riot on Palm Island off Australia‘s far northeast coast, about 20 police were trapped inside their station as a crowd stormed the building, eventually setting it alight, a police spokeswoman said.
Radio reports said the station had been set on fire with a petrol bomb in the protests that erupted after Cameron Doomagee, 36, died in a police cell on the island last Friday. Doomagee had been arrested for being drunk.
“This is cold-blooded murder,” one rioter yelled at the crowd in television footage aired on Friday. “I am not going to accept it and I know a lot of you other people won’t.”
About 60 police reinforcements flew to Palm Island, where most residents are Aboriginals, late on Friday and restored calm. No injuries were reported.
“At the moment the information is things are quiet on the island. We have control of the hospital, airport and local school,” a police spokeswoman said.
Disadvantaged Aboriginals rioted
“An emergency situation has been declared, allowing police to close the airport, take control of resources and buildings and close roads. We are maintaining order tonight and tomorrow we will bring in other police officers,” she said.
Some residents, contractors and public servants, including teachers, were evacuated from the island on Friday.
Australian radio said the riot started after the release of a post-mortem examination of Doomagee. The autopsy found he had four broken ribs and died from a punctured lung.
“The coroner’s report did say the injuries that the deceased had suffered were consistent with a fall,” said Judy Spence, the minister for police in Australia‘s northern state of Queensland.
Queensland‘s Crime and Misconduct Commission officers arrived on Palm Island on Thursday to investigate Doomagee’s death.
“Whether the death in this circumstance was black or white it doesn’t matter. We do not have one law for whites and one law for blacks”
Queensland state premier Peter Beattie called for island leaders to calm their community and await the outcome of the police investigation into Doomagee’s death.
“Whether the death in this circumstance was black or white it doesn’t matter. We do not have one law for whites and one law for blacks,” Beattie said.
Aboriginals rioted in Sydney‘s Redfern ghetto in February over the death of a black boy they mistakenly believed had been chased by police. The boy was impaled on a fence after falling from his bicycle.
A Palm Island resident said the violence was similar to the Redfern riot and she feared for white residents on the island.
“It is very much a white-black issue,” said Nicky Willis. “The young people of Redfern were full of anger and now the young people here are full of anger.”