Today is Aunty Tanya Day’s birthday, and yet she is not here to celebrate with her family. She was a proud Yorta Yorta woman, mother and grandmother. She was an avid community member, a phenomenal cook, and an activist. Before she tragically passed away, she was actively supporting Aboriginal families who had lost their loved ones in custody, and this was a hallmark of her life. Her uncle Harrison Day had tragically passed away in custody and was one of the 99 cases investigated by the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
In 2017, Aunty Tanya was sleeping on a train in northern Victoria when she was targeted by a V/Line conductor and then arrested by police for public intoxication. Aunty Tanya was doing nothing wrong - she was sleeping. And yet she was targeted for the crime of being a black woman resting on a train.
Aunty Tanya Day died in custody after being placed in a cell at Castlemain police station. At the inquest into her death, the CCTV footage captured a fall that would later prove fatal, and yet the police failed to conduct the necessary checks on her.
Similar to other cases of Aboriginal women who died in custody, Aunty Tanya Day should never have been locked up at all. She should have been left alone or taken to hospital. Instead, her family are left grieving at not only the tragic loss of their mother but by the white justice system’s failure to hold those responsible for her death accountable.
This does not happen to non-Aboriginal women, and yet the factors that lead to Aunty Tanya Day’s arrest and subsequent death are factors that have lead to many other black deaths behind bars. This is chronicled in the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody and in the stories of those who passed away in the decades after this commission. The jailing rates of Aboriginal women have not slowed, in fact they have increased by devastating numbers. The majority of these women are mothers.
Last week, the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) in Victoria announced they would not be prosecuting the two police officers involved in her death, despite the coroner referring them for criminal investigation.
In a statement released by the Human Rights Law Centre, Aunty Tanya’s family said:
“We are devastated and we are angry. The two police officers who failed to properly check on our mum, and instead left her to die on the floor of a police cell, have been let off. The DPP seem to have based their conclusion on a police investigation that we have said all along was flawed and lacked independence. It is not good enough that such an important decision was made behind closed doors without any input from our family or the broader Aboriginal community. It is in the public interest – and the interests of Aboriginal people across Australia – that the police be held accountable for their actions”.
“In the last 30 years, hundreds of Aboriginal people like our mum have died at the hands of the police, yet no police officer has ever been held criminally responsible. We had hoped that in this global ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement that there might be some care and accountability for our mum’s needless death, but instead the DPP are choosing not to prosecute this injustice. This is wrong and speaks volumes about systemic racism and police impunity in this country. Aboriginal people will keep dying in custody until the legal system changes and police are held accountable.”
Today her family are calling on everyone to wear #PinkforTanya to pay tribute to her memory. I ask you to do the same.
If you want to find out more about Aunty Tanya’s story, check out my piece in Marie Claire.
Read the reporting from The Guardian’s Calla Wahlquist here.
And most importantly, hear directly from Aunty Tanya’s daughter Apryl, in her piece in the Guardian here.