'#BuskingBecky' And Australia's State Of Amnesia

If you aren’t a Twitter regular and are seeing posts appearing in your various social media and online news feeds featuring #BuskingBecky, you may find yourself wondering what all the fuss is about.

The hashtag #buskingbecky began to appear on Twitter after an incident took place at a protest on Bourke Street in Melbourne, on Monday 10 December, International Human Rights Day.

My name is Latoya Aroha Hohepa, and I was one of the protesters at that march.

Lining, but not blocking the footpath, a group of about 20 protesters aimed to raise awareness of the ongoing deaths in custody of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People, and to share the stories and photographs of our loved ones who had died in the custody of police and prisons.

We so often hear that racism, structural violence and inequality can be addressed with education, and by engaging in this form of protest, the opportunity for the public to be educated on this loss of lives was on display.

I had flown from Adelaide to Melbourne to engage in this protest as part of a weekend memorialising the life of Wiradjuri Warrior Uncle Ray Jackson, who fought hard against Aboriginal deaths in custody and the human right to life.

I was asked to share the story of my brother, Wayne Fella Morrison, and his death which took place in custody in Yatala prison, South Australia from reasons including spit hood and restraint asphyxia.

Myself and my brother Wayne Fella Morrison, who died in custody. (Image: Supplied)

Wayne is one of more than 400 Aboriginal people to have died in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

Myself and the other protesters held large corflute signs which showed the faces of our loved ones, and had written upon them the circumstances of their deaths.

As we stood in peaceful protest we called out the names of the deceased to ensure that they were remembered -- showing that their lives were and continue to be significant to us, despite the lack of justice for their deaths.

So what was the problem?

Unfortunately, once our protest was underway a busker who plays regularly there, who has since been nicknamed “BuskingBecky” by social media users, began to complain over her microphone that we were interfering with her profitability. This interaction was captured on video by a bystander.

She later took to her social media platform, where she filmed herself calling us ‘arseholes’ among other things for our ‘behaviour’ and for ‘ruining’ her show.

I had not flown interstate to be called out by a busker while I stood with a photo of my dead brother in hand.

Once the exchange was on social media, the nickname #buskingbecky was applied and people began to comment on the recordings and their experiences of similar attempts at silencing and erasure.

The busker has since deleted her posts, and issued an apology on social media.

The original incident is sadly in line with the wider problem of silencing and erasure that those in my community face every day.  Our voices are quick to be dismissed, while it’s easy for onlookers to feel ‘inconvenienced’ by our protests and claim ‘amnesia’ when it comes to our reasons for holding them.

Protesters display signs ahead of the Black Deaths in Custody Protest  in Sydney on Saturday, May 12, 2018. FIRE (Image: AAP)

That people are willing to forget or tune out the 15 Aboriginal people’s names we yell aloud in their presence is telling of how easy it is to forget or rather not care that Aboriginal people are being killed in custody at all. As much as our voices are being subjugated, so too are our lives.

It is frustrating that when it comes to abuses toward Aboriginal people, there is so rarely any accountability.

There is a lack of transparency and justice being served within coronial investigations and the wider justice system.

People in public spaces seeking to have us leave, saying or implying that we don’t have a place there, seeks to render us invisible as though we have never existed as sovereign peoples at all.

Right at this very moment my brother Wayne’s coronial inquest is occurring where some of the corrections officers involved in the final moments of his life are seeking a blanket release from giving evidence, citing the Coroner’s Act special privilege that protects individuals from the possibility of self-incrimination.

Let that sink in.

Even when what we are offering is education, we are silenced and treated with amnesia.

But I’m not going to allow my brother Wayne, or the other 400 plus lives that have been taken in custody, to ever be forgotten. Aboriginal lives matter.