Ms Dhu 4c - Police Discretionary Powers


Police Discretionary Powers as Techniques of Racial Violence

High rates of incarceration for ‘good order offences’ reflect how the bodies of Aboriginal women and girls are violently regulated and policed in public space. The police treatment of Ms Dhu exemplifies the manner in which police discretionary powers can be mobilised as techniques of racial violence. They evidence the asymmetries of racialised power that inscribe police discretion – as to whether or not they will charge someone for ‘disorderly behavior’ (as is often the case with Aboriginal people) or whether they choose (as is invariably the case with white people) to let them off with a caution. Police discretionary powers, as techniques of racial violence, contribute to the over-representation of Indigenous people in Australia’s prisons as they criminalise Indigenous people in ways that often have cascading effects: for example, an Indigenous person who resists arrest may be charged, in turn, with offensive language and police assault – a combination known as the ‘trifecta.’

Ms Dhu’s fines for ‘disorderly behaviour’ included swearing at a police officer; however while in custody Ms Dhu herself was sworn at and degraded with no criminal or other consequences for the abuser. When former Sergeant Bond was asked whether he swore at Ms Dhu, he conceded he may have done so because ‘that’s the way we spoke to each other in the Pilbara’.


Aunty Carol raises her right fist in the air while holding a placard in the other hand outside the Coroner's Court in an act of resistance.

[imagecaption] Aunty Carol outside the court, Whadjuk Country (Perth), 2015. Photo: Charandev Singh.[/imagecaption]

‘The police could not see Ms Dhu as a victim who was deserving of protection and assistance – her Aboriginality denied her this status.’

Dr Hannah McGlade



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