Death in detention sparks race riot
An Australian police station was firebombed and burnt to the ground on Friday as 300 angry Aborigines rioted after the release of autopsy results on a man who died in police custody, police said.
Up to 50 armed police reinforcements were being flown to the Aboriginal settlement at Palm Island on Australia’s north-eastern tip, after residents stormed the police station and adjoining courthouse and set fire to the buildings.
“There’s smoke everywhere, the police station’s just about burnt to the ground as it is, as well as the residence where the police live,” resident Nicky Bull told ABC radio.
The flare-up follows one of the country’s worst race riots, triggered in Sydney’s Aboriginal suburb of Redfern by the death of a teenager in February.
The Palm Island riot started after autopsy results showed that a popular young Aborigine, Cameron Doomadgee, had broken ribs and died from a punctured lung in the police station last Friday.
Queensland state Police Commissioner Bob Atkinson said Doomadgee’s injuries were a result of a scuffle with police when he was being taken from a prison van and had punched an officer in the head.
“There was a scuffle and the police officer and the person who has died then fell to the ground on some concrete steps,” he said, promising a full investigation and an inquest.
Freelance cameraman Steve Hume, who was caught up in the riot, said the violence erupted within minutes of a public meeting.
He said the scene quickly degenerated into a “war zone” when community leaders revealed the results of the post-mortem.
“We looked behind us and they started running towards the police station, a couple of hundred of them,” Hume said.
“It just got out of control, they started throwing stones ... one man had a huge shifting spanner and smashed the grilles out the front of the police station.”
Queensland state Premier Peter Beattie described the riot as “a very serious situation” and said he was shocked at the damage on Palm Island.
He appealed to leaders of the Aboriginal settlement to try to restore order.
Palm Island has had a troubled history, earning the dubious title of the most violent place on earth outside a combat zone in the 1998 Guinness Book of Records. - Sapa-AFP