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Melbourne's CBD was brought to a standstill Friday evening as hundreds gathered to mourn the death of 14-year-old Elijah Doughty. And to the protest the sentence that was last week handed down to the white man responsible for the Aboriginal teen's death. It was alleged the man thought Elijah had stolen his motorcycle, and so chased him down with his ute and ran him over.
The 54-year-old Kalgoorlie local, who's name has been suppressed, was sentenced to three years in prison on a charge of "dangerous driving causing death," which had been downgraded from manslaughter.
The verdict sparked a wave of protest around the country, including at Sydney's Supreme Court where people smeared red ochre on the building's windows. At last weekend's Splendour in the Grass, rapper Briggs and A.B. Original dedicated their sets to Elijah, and to the treatment of Aboriginal people in the Australian justice system.
In Melbourne, hundreds gathered on the steps of Parliament House where there was a heavy police presence. Proceedings began with a minute's silence in memory of Elijah, followed by speeches.
Many speakers called for the Supreme Court to overturn the decision. "We demand justice. We demand a repeal of the court's decision. Enough is enough," one said. But the verdict has also become a flashpoint for the treatment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian justice system.
"Elijah's death, it's an individual case but it's representative of the larger monster that exists in this country," organiser Sissy Austin told VICE. "I think the turnout today… it's really good for me as an Aboriginal woman, I've been sitting at work all week feeling so disconnected and so empty. And now we're finally here to grieve… and to be with our mob."
"The only time I see this many blackfellas together is at funerals," Chris Saunders told the crowd. "And it disgusts me."
Numbers from the Australian Bureau of Statistics suggest that, per capita, Indigenous Australians are the most incarcerated people in the world. The community make up nearly 28 percent of the country's prison population, and only three percent of the national population. And since 1991, some 340 Indigenous people have died in custody around the country.
The protest brought peak hour traffic to a standstill as it marched through the CBD. Office workers lined the sidewalks of Bourke Street, watching on as the crowd shouted, "No justice, no peace."
The march ended at Flinders Street Station, as all those gathered sat down in a large circle in the middle of the intersection for a traditional smoking ceremony and music. Both riot police and mounted officers surrounded the protesters.
"A child is dead," organiser Chris Saunders told VICE. "And it could've been anybody. It could've been my brother, it could've been my nephew, it could've been my niece.
"It's so raw, it's so raw. It's like, who's next? That's one of the main questions we've been asking, and it scares us. Who's next?"
"I heard [Elijah's] family had said they didn't think anybody would care. That's the thinking," organiser and Warriors of the Aboriginal Resistance cofounder Meriki Onus told the crowd. "There is a serious problem in Australia. But we are watching. And the world is watching."