AN Aboriginal man arrested with 70 other Extinction Rebellion protesters says he was left distraught and in tears after being singled out for solitary confinement.
Neville Kirk was was arrested during ER’s Flood the City event on Friday October 11 and initially put in a cell with up to eight other protesters, but says once he was fingerprinted and had his paperwork sorted out, he was escorted to an empty cell on the opposite side of a large, circular room.
“I could see everyone else together in their cells, lying around on mattresses, talking and laughing,” Mr Kirk said.
An experienced environmental and indigenous activist, he says to that point he’d complied willingly with every order from watch house police, as he was still buoyant from the protest and just wanted to be processed so he could go home.
But as his lonely incarceration started to stretch out, underlying mental health issues started to surface.
“I was just pacing up and down in my cell, swearing and talking to myself,” Mr Kirk said.
“My depression got triggered by being in there by myself – I was crying and everything, and I’m not scared to say that.
“It wasn’t a nice feeling in there.”
WA Police confirmed Mr Kirk was placed in a cell by himself, but said he was alone for two hours, while he states it was closer to four.
Police liaison officer Susan Usher said other detainees were also held alone for the same period of time as Mr Kirk “for various operational reasons”.
The Herald believes the other solitary detainees were a pregnant woman and a person who identifies as transgender.
Which leads Mr Kirk to believe he was isolated simply for being Aboriginal.
“Even if it’s the case that they’re just following their protocols, doing it for my own protection, they knew that I was part of the group,” Mr Kirk said.
“They should give us the respect that we need, and treat me the way that they treat everybody else.”
He says despite his mental health condition being known to police, no officers stopped to ask if he was ok during his incarceration, only walking past occasionally to look through the glass front of the cell.
Ms Usher said Mr Kirk was checked by officers “multiple times within prescribed timeframes” and was given several meals but didn’t outline whether that involved any verbal communication.
“WA Police contacted the Aboriginal Legal Service WA as per the Custodial Notification Service, and offered Neville the opportunity to speak with an ALSWA representative, which he declined,” Ms Usher said.
Mr Kirk says he’s considering a formal complaint about his treatment, but says mostly he wanted people to hear about his experience to understand what it meant to be treated differently because of your skin colour.
“It makes it feel like you are better then me – that we are less than what you are,” Mr Kirk said.
“This is the worst experience I’ve had in custody.
“It isn’t going to stop me, though. It’s important to show people that our culture still cares about the land, and that some of us still stand up.”
by STEVE GRANT