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Protesters rally in Perth and Geraldton against institutionalised racism following JC trial verdict

Michael Roberts & Charlotte EltonGeraldton Guardian
Protesters confront police on the steps of State parliament during the Justice for JC rally.
Camera IconProtesters confront police on the steps of State parliament during the Justice for JC rally. Credit: Picture: Nic Ellis

Hundreds gathered in Geraldton and Perth on Thursday in an emotional plea to fix the justice system and end black deaths in custody following the not guilty verdict of a police officer who fatally shot a Yamatji woman in 2019.

Emotions ran high among the crowd at Parliament House in Perth, where about 150 protesters gathered to mourn the death of JC.

Protesters were met with a heavy police presence of more than 50 officers, with actor Ernie Dingo stepping between police and protesters as the two parties clashed.

Though the protest was peaceful, more police arrived after a brief confrontation as a protester attempted to mark red handprints on the walls of the building.

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An emotional Bernadette Clarke, sister of JC, addresses the Justice for JC rally on the steps of State parliament.
Camera IconAn emotional Bernadette Clarke, sister of JC, addresses the Justice for JC rally on the steps of State parliament. Credit: The West Australian

JC’s sister Bernadette said she had to “stand strong” for her sister.

“My sister needs justice, my sister deserves to rest in peace in a proper manner,” she said.

“We will never be happy until this man who pulled the trigger is held accountable.”

JC’s nine-year-old son was also seen at the rally, holding a sign reading: “Black lives matter”.

Dingo also addressed the crowd, urging them to channel their anger to make change.

“There’s been too many deaths in custody, there’s been too many deaths that are unwarranted,” he said.

“We can’t move on if we (are) full of hate. We can’t move on if we don’t get the answers we want.”

Actor Ernie Dingo attempts to calm the situation.
Camera IconActor Ernie Dingo attempts to calm the situation. Credit: Nic Ellis/Nic Ellis

In Geraldton, about 200 people rallied across the road from the courthouse while senior figures of the Geraldton police force watched on from afar.

Angry protesters marched through the Geraldton CBD on Saturday to voice their frustrations, but Thursday’s peaceful rally cut a more sombre mood as the Yamatji community called for unity and “a way forward”. After a minute’s silence organiser Anthony Dann read out a statement from JC’s foster mother Anne Jones.

“We stand in solidarity with so many other families right across the nation and express my love and appreciation to you all,” the statement read.

“ This shock (of the verdict) soon turned to anger and rage.

“Police are protected by the system that fails our brothers and sisters nationwide.”

The 21/2-week trial revealed it took the first-class constable 16 seconds to shoot JC — who was suffering from poor mental health while holding a knife and a pair of scissors — after he got out of his vehicle. Thursday’s rally heard from Aboriginal woman Jennifer Clayton, whose son and granddaughter both died in custody at the age of 26.

Jennifer Clayton .
Camera IconJennifer Clayton . Credit: Michael Roberts/Geraldton Guardian/Michael Roberts

Chardeena Wynne died in a Perth hospital in 2019 after she lost consciousness during a police arrest, while Warren Cooper was found dead in a police cell in Albany in 1999. “I know what they (JC’s family) are going through,” she said.

“Enough is enough. Our black lives do matter. When is this going to stop?”

It’s understood the police officer wants to return to the force, with Police Commissioner Chris Dawson on Thursday saying he had talked with the officer about the prospect of getting reinstated.

“We will work our way through an assessment, in terms of any re-training and how we can actually proceed the way through that. We are right in the middle of that at the moment ... I am not in a position to add too much further than that,” he said.

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