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Spearing NT killer cop ‘could bring peace’

Bradley Wallace says payback is about peacemaking and bringing balance back to the community.

Bradley Wallace says payback is about peacemaking and bringing balance back to the community. Photo: AAP

Spearing a Northern Territory police officer who shot dead an Indigenous teenager could restore harmony to his troubled outback community, an inquest has been told.

Constable Zachary Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker three times during a bungled arrest in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, on November 9, 2019.

An Alice Springs inquest into the Warlpiri man’s death heard on Thursday that traditional payback within customary or tribal law is often misunderstood by non-Indigenous Australians as revenge.

“There is great misinterpretation across the NT when it comes to the concept of payback,” NT police officer and Arrernte man Brad Wallace told the inquest.

“The concept of payback is interpreted more from a contemporary Westernised side as being revenge or punishment.

“The knowledge I’ve gained in my life it’s based more around peacemaking and bringing balance back to the community.”

‘Process of peacemaking’ between clans

Senior Constable Wallace said he had witnessed a payback ceremony in his youth and “it was a process of peacemaking between two clan groups”.

“It stopped the situation from further developing.”

Counsel assisting Peggy Dwyer said the Yuendumu community had told the coroner that “payback would involve spearing” Const Rolfe.

“In this case where the community are aggrieved understandably by Kumanjayi’s death and Const Rolfe causing death this court can’t condone grievous bodily harm to be committed against the constable,” she said.

Const Rolfe shot Mr Walker in the back and torso as the 19-year-old resisted being placed in handcuffs at his grandmother’s home.

The 31-year-old was charged with murder four days later and found not guilty in March after a five-week jury trial that divided opinion across the NT.

Misunderstanding of what payback entails

The verdict also left the grieving Warlpiri community angry and calling for justice to be served for their beloved son.

That frustration and outrage was further exacerbated during the inquest by some police officers’ evidence that demonstrated a misunderstanding of what payback was.

Elder Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves told reporters visiting Yuendumu on Tuesday that payback needed to happen so the remote community could heal.

He said the Warlpiri people “have not seen the blood of Zachary Rolfe” and felt disrespected.

“Deep in our hearts, deep in our minds, deep in the community we want to see justice,” he said.

Constable Zachary Rolfe refused to answer some questions when appearing as a witness into the death of Kumanjayi Walker. Photo: AAP

Outside court on Thursday, emerging Warlpiri leader Samara Fernandez‐Brown said Const Rolfe should lose his job with the NT Police Force and be jailed.

She declined to answer questions about what form of payback would be acceptable for her community to heal other than spearing, but did say there were other forms of customary law available.

“It would need to be a conversation with the Elders to see if there would be another option that would allow them to feel the same outcome,” she said.

“For myself, as Kumanjayi’s cousin, I would feel some sort of justice to an extent with Zachary Rolfe being fired.

“But even then it’s not going to be enough knowing he is still around people and not behind bars as every other person would be if they committed murder and weren’t a white privileged police officer.”

Meanwhile, Mr Walker’s family vented their frustration and anger on Wednesday when Const Rolfe claimed legal privilege and refused to answer some questions when he appeared as a witness at the inquest.

“He needs to give us answers. There shouldn’t be any secrets. It makes me really sad. It’s not fair,” Mr Walker’s grandfather, Steven Marshall, said in a statement

The inquest continues on Friday.

-AAP

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