A Northern Territory police officer who shot dead an Indigenous teenager could restore harmony to his troubled outback community, an inquest has found.
Constable Zachary Rolfe shot Kumanjayi Walker three times during a botched arrest in Yuendumu, northwest of Alice Springs, on November 9, 2019.
An Alice Springs inquest into the death of the Warlpiri man heard on Thursday that traditional customary or tribal law retaliation is often misunderstood as revenge by non-Indigenous Australians.
“There’s a big misinterpretation in 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 as revenge or punishment from a contemporary westernized side.
“The knowledge I have gained in my life is based more on building peace and bringing balance back to the community.”
‘Process of peacemaking’ between clans
Senior Constable Wallace said he had witnessed a revenge ceremony in his youth and “it was a process of peacemaking between two clan groups”.
“It kept the situation from developing.”
Counsel representing Peggy Dwyer said the Yuendumu community had told the coroner that Const Rolfe would be “paid back with a spear”.
“In this case, where the community is understandably saddened by the death of Kumanjayi and the death of Const Rolfe, this court cannot award grievous bodily harm to the officer,” she said.
Const Rolfe shot Mr Walker in the back and torso as the 19-year-old resisted being handcuffed 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 split opinion on the NT.
Misunderstanding of what payback period means
The verdict also angered the grieving Warlpiri community and called for justice for their beloved son.
That frustration and outrage was compounded during the inquest by evidence from some police officers that showed a misunderstanding of what payback was.
Elder Ned Jampijinpa Hargraves told reporters visiting Yuendumu on Tuesday that payback was needed to heal the remote community.
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.
Out of court on Thursday, emerging Warlpiri leader Samara Fernandez-Brown said Const Rolfe should lose his job in 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 spear, but did say other forms of common law were available.
“There should 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 kind of justice to some degree if Zachary Rolfe were fired.
“But even then it won’t be enough to know that he’s still around people and isn’t behind bars like 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 has to give us answers. There shouldn’t be any secrets. It really makes me sad. It’s not fair,” Mr Walker’s grandfather, Steven Marshall, said in a statement
The investigation continues Friday.