Racially-Motivated Murder Of Child Opens Old Wounds For Australia’s Indigenous Communities

15-year-old Noongar-Yamatji student Cassius Turvey has died after the violent attack he suffered when walking home with fellow classmates in Middle Swan, Perth on October 13th. Turvey’s attacker has been charged with murder, as well as assault against another of the teenagers, but the investigation into the killing, and other potential perpetrators’ involvement, continues. Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese has declared that the killing “was clearly racially motivated.”

At around 4:30pm, Cassius and his friends were walking home when three white men pulled up to them in a car, allegedly howling racial slurs. One of these men, a 21-year-old, exited the vehicle and chased the boys down, telling them to “run.” The assailant then attacked one of the boys with his own crutches. This boy fortunately escaped with only bruises. However, Turvey, who had been severely beaten with a metal pole, was rushed to the hospital.

Cassius Turvey would die 10 days later, after suffering multiple seizures and strokes due to his head injuries.

“This is shameful,” said Dr. Hannah McGlade, member of the U.N. Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues and Senior Indigenous Research Fellow at Curtin University. “It’s an absolute blight on the nation that young kids can be murdered like this.”

Turvey’s death has sparked worldwide attention, prompting numerous vigils throughout Australia and commemorations in New Zealand and the United States. Thousands of people have attended the rallies held in his memory. Cassius’s mother, Mechelle Turvey, led a vigil in Perth’s center on Halloween – her son’s favourite holiday. Attendees wore shirts bearing Cassius’s face, along with the black, red, and yellow of the Aboriginal flag.

“The love, the generosity, the kindness, and the outpouring of tributes across the nation has been so appreciated,” Ms. Turvey said in a moving statement.

This kind of murder would not happen to white children, McGlade told the B.B.C., and it has highlighted the racism Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities still face. These people remember the Stolen Generations and every other loss at the hands of British, and, later, Australian colonization. Cassius Turvey, like Louis St. John Johnson, Cleon Jackman, and Thomas Hickey, is one more Indigenous child murdered because of his race.

“We know that in terms of Indigenous people, they are more likely to suffer violence in this country than non-Indigenous people,” Prime Minister Albanese said. “And so we need to acknowledge that, we need to do much better.”

Emily Farmer, mother to one of the boys who walked home with Cassius that day, puts the truth to that. “I’ve always told [my son] ‘You’re an Indigenous boy – they’re going to look at you and think all these awful things. Just try and be smaller,’” Farmer said in an interview with Indigenous television programme The Point. “I hate that I had to explain that to my son at this age.”

“Enough is enough,” says Noongar activist Jim Morrison. “There’s a lot of work to be done and the inequities just keep rising. People don’t know – truth-telling has to get better.”

“There is nothing more important that we can do but start to see the reality and deal with it,” McGlade agrees.

Morrison has urged government and police to work closely with Indigenous communities to create better rapport and more meaningful connections. Advocates also demand the creation of grieving places, because mourning in these groups is culturally practiced communally in a process of collective healing.

However, identifying racism and acknowledging its impact is vital in minimizing this kind of discrimination before it can become violent. The reach and influence of political discussion makes it a significant vehicle for this strategy.

Education is another arena where racism can be tackled. Children must be taught about equality, inclusivity, respect, and the history of racism and colonialism from an early age.

Still, no amount of changes for the future can change the fact that racism against Australia’s Indigenous peoples is still very much alive today – or that Cassius Turvey is not.

“I’m heartbroken,” his mother said. “For no reason, I’ve lost him. He should still be with us today, going to school, playing footy and living a long life.”