Sydney, July 7 (Reuters): A row has broken out in Australia’s Queensland state following reports that police there used photographs of real-life people, including Aborigines, during target practice.
The police minister in the northeastern state, Tony McGrady, ordered an inquiry after Channel Seven television reported yesterday that Queensland’s counter-terrorism squad used 28 pictures or mug shots, including those of two Aborigines, in training exercises.
Civil rights activists reacted with outrage but police maintained they had done nothing wrong.
“It’s absolutely disgraceful in that it reinforces prejudices,” said Cameron Murphy, secretary of the Australian Council for Civil Liberties.
“We’ve got a serious problem with police being trained to shoot to kill and we’ve also got a problem with police unfairly targetting certain groups. What we now have is the two issues linked together,” Murphy said.
Police commissioner Bob Atkinson defended the practice, saying the force’s elite unit needed to hone its skills in the most realistic setting possible and photographs of real people helped them to do that.
Leaders from the Aboriginal community, which after more than 200 years of white settlement remains the island continent’s most disadvantaged social group, also condemned the Queensland police.
“It is a despicable act,” said “Sugar” Ray Robinson, a commissioner with the national indigenous body, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
”I think it is outrageous in a country where we are trying to achieve reconciliation between black and white Australians,” Robinson told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
Australia's 400,000 Aborigines, who make up two percent of the population, have long complained about what they see as racism in the police force, especially in Queensland, which the rest of the country often refers to as the“Deep North”.
Aborigines are 20 times more likely to end up in jail than other Australians. They also die on average 20 years younger and suffer staggering rates of alcohol and drug abuse.