Failures on hate crime show urgent need for immediate reform of police oversight
This week I will focus my column on something that may well have slipped under the radar for many, the NSW Police Force’s Strike Force Parrabell releasing its findings after an internal three-year review of 88 deaths of gay men or transgender people between 1976 and 2000. These 88 deaths are only a portion of a much larger victim pool.
However, while the NSW Police Force acknowledges that Sydney’s LGBTIQ community was a target for bashings and murders, the Parrabell report itself is not enough. We need a parliamentary inquiry into gay hate crimes in this state, with Greens MP David Shoebridge saying “There needs to be a more open, independent and accountable way of holding police to account for past and present failures”.
Nicholas Stewart LGBTQI co-chair at Australian Lawyers for Human Rights explained that “Gay bashing in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s was a national sport.”
Groups of youths saw gay men and transgender people as weak victims who they could target without fear of a fight and who could be bashed and killed without a thorough investigation by police. At the time, gay men and transgender people were often and mistakenly thought of as AIDS-carrying aberrations, members of an unnatural sexual minority who did not deserve equal treatment.
So at the time Sydney’s spate of gay hate crimes was being perpetrated, the homophobic bias within parts of the NSW Police Force meant matters weren’t adequately investigated. Evidence was misplaced or recklessly stored or lost, witnesses weren’t interviewed, family members of victims were ignored, and leads were not followed up.
The report from NSW Police Force Strike Force Parrabell highlighting these systemic failings by the police in responding to gay hate murders. It found that one third of the deaths considered were likely gay hate killings.
There is a strong need now to both implement the recommendations of the report, and to take bold steps to ensure that community concerns about policing are addressed.
Recommendations of the report include the need for the police to foster reciprocal relationships of trust with organisations and the broader GLBTIQ community, better community engagement, more comprehensive and sensitive training for police officers, and the need to be vigilant about emerging categories of hate crime.
The report also found that “The NSWPF should remain vigilant to the complexities and nuance of bias as it relates to sexuality and/or gender identity (including violence directed at transgender people)”
David Shoebridge said, “It is a significant step forward that police have undertaken this review and taken responsibility for past mistakes.”
As Jenny Leong, MP for Newtown and Greens NSW Spokesperson on Sex, Sexuality and Gender Identity pointed out, “It has long been the position of the Greens that police investigating their own actions, particularly in relation to matters as serious as gay, transgender and lesbian hate crimes, is problematic.”
Indeed, the LGBTI community, and our First Nations and Australia’s multicultural population need a strong voice within the police to ensure that this kind of bias in policing does not continue.
A good start would be a statutory community oversight board with the ability to directly raise community issues with the most senior police and demand responses