Get all your news in one place.
100’s of premium titles.
One app.
Start reading
Rudi Maxwell and Jacob Shteyman

Evidence of police racism in Walker inquest 'traumatic'

Samara Fernandez-Brown's cousin Kumanjayi Walker was shot dead during an arrest gone wrong. (Aaron Bunch/AAP PHOTOS)

Northern Territory Police's already strained relationship with Aboriginal communities following the death of Warlpiri teenager Kumanjayi Walker is being further tested after former constable Zachary Rolfe gave evidence of systemic racism in the force.

Mr Rolfe shot and killed Mr Walker, 19, while on duty at Yuendumu in November 2019 and is fronting an inquest into his death at Alice Springs.

Listening to the evidence of Mr Rolfe has been devastating for the family of Warlpiri teenager Kumanjayi Walker.

Walker family spokeswoman Samara Fernandez-Brown told AAP it was a relief to have Mr Rolfe answering questions, after the ex-officer had tried to avoid fronting the coroner.

"But at the same time, it is very, very hard to listen to him and very, very hard to see him and, for family, it's so traumatic," she said.

Mr Rolfe's evidence detailed examples of bigotry in the NT Police, including an annual racist mock award ceremony by an elite unit, and his previous and separate use of force - including on a child - before he shot Mr Walker.

"We know that a racist culture exists ... but to hear the evidence around that particular ceremony and having somebody dress up and having that particular award, making a mockery of Aboriginal culture, that's something that I wouldn't have been able to imagine," Ms Fernandez-Brown said.

"We're showing up for Kumanjayi but also for our other young men and older men and women who are in the incarceration system, and facing these kinds of injustices by police. 

"It means a lot for us to be here and it means that we are hopeful towards sort of positive change, but we're not going to feel like we're healing until we see those changes coming into practice."

Former Constable Zachary Rolfe
Mr Rolfe told the inquest into Kumanjayi Walker's death of a racist culture within the NT police. (Rudi Maxwell/AAP PHOTOS)

Ms Fernandez-Brown said she hoped there would be a full and proper investigation into the racist culture detailed in Mr Rolfe's testimony, and that authorities would make NT police officers accountable for their behaviour.

"At the moment, NT police are not doing anything to actually gain people's trust," she said.

"And if I'm still hearing about excessive use of force, and if I'm still hearing that young people are scared of the police in Yuendumu, then nothing's changed in the years that we've been fighting."

NT Police Commissioner Michael Murphy ordered a police investigation into Mr Rolfe's claims but insisted he had not seen any evidence of racist behaviour by officers on the ground.

"We've got really good people, really good men and women across the Northern Territory police who do a fantastic job every day and work tirelessly to protect Territorians and all the cultures across the Territory," he told reporters on Tuesday.

"There are pockets of people who make mistakes. It's about learning from that, not just as individuals, but as an agency."

Mr Murphy said officers worked closely with Aboriginal communities, but conceded the claims ventilated by Mr Rolfe were not helpful.

"We have great relationships with the community and really strong ties and we'll continue to develop them."

Mr Rolfe is due to take the stand again on Tuesday. 

He was found not guilty of murdering Mr Walker following a high-profile, five-week trial in 2022. 

He was sacked by the Northern Territory Police Force in 2023, in a move he planned to appeal.

NT Police Minister Brent Potter said racism in any organisation is unacceptable but he would reserve his judgement on the issue until the coronial investigation was finalised.

Sign up to read this article
Read news from 100’s of titles, curated specifically for you.
Already a member? Sign in here
Related Stories
Top stories on inkl right now
One subscription that gives you access to news from hundreds of sites
Already a member? Sign in here
Our Picks
Fourteen days free
Download the app
One app. One membership.
100+ trusted global sources.