Northern Territories Police step up presence in Yuendumu in response to escalating destruction and violence

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After weeks of continued unrest among family groups living in the remote central Australian community of Yuendumu, police have stepped up their presence in the face of escalating property destruction and violence.

It comes as a three-month coroner’s inquest into Kumanjayi Walker’s death begins in Alice Springs, after the 19-year-old was shot dead by NT Constable Zachary Rolfe in Yuendumu in 2019.

One of the community’s two main stores, about 300 kilometers northwest of Alice Springs, ordered different factions to shop at different times of the day to avoid conflict.

“The system seems to be collapsing”

Central Desert Regional Council chief executive Leslie Manda said “the system seems to be breaking down” except for the ongoing mediation process between family groups.

Mr Manda said homes and office buildings were regularly broken into and vandalized, leaving council staff feeling unsafe.

“The store has been burglarized several times, along with some community properties,” he said.

Mr. Manda says mediation is key to resolving the conflict. (ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

“The relentless nature of the violence has impacted the resilience of our staff members, and [in one instance] we closed the store one afternoon, just to allow our staff to reset and get ready for work the next day.

“When people are marching down the street with weapons and throwing rocks, of course it ends up hurting your resilience as an individual and in some cases you don’t feel safe.”

Mr Manda said the council had managed to continue providing services such as rubbish collection to the community, but staff were ready for the situation to get worse.

“We provide resilience training and also have our own lockdown procedures as this happens,” he said.

“We are a member of the local emergency committee, where we have line of sight or direct contact with the field commander, or even the Alice Springs police.

“We have this call point with the police, if they say it’s not safe we ​​can take the next step to keep our staff safe.”

Mediation, the “most important thing”

Mr Manda said mediation between family groups was key to improving the current dynamic, with the police also playing a vital role in cases of criminal behaviour.

A street in the remote town of Yuendumu.
Yuendumu is the largest community in Central Australia.(ABC News: Samantha Jonscher)

“With these infighting between family groups, mediation becomes the most important thing,” he said.

“At this point, we have community elders who are having community meetings with this southern Kurdish indigenous society who are coming to the table to try to bring these family groups to a common ground.”

He said part of the conflict stemmed from social media and portrayals of the community in the media, which had also made it more difficult to recruit staff.

“The footage comes out in Alice Springs and then it basically comes back to the community and they pick up all of these fights that are happening, so it’s not all really based on what’s happening on the ground in the community,” he said. he declares.

“Social media and the news unfortunately don’t do justice to Yuendumu.

“It’s even difficult for us to get staff to our Alice Springs office from the freeway because the news also paints Alice Springs in a different light in terms of anti-social behavior.”

Bring community members to the table

Northern Territory Police Commander Craig Laidler said the unrest required a “heavy police presence” to help bring the situation under control.

Craig Laidler, wearing a police hat, outside the Alice Springs police station.
Commander Laidler says an increased police presence has helped contain the situation in Yuendumu.(ABC Alice Springs: Mitchell Abram)

“The goal, and what we try to do, is to engage closely and try to maintain a strong relationship with community members, local elders, where we can all work together to try to mediate and reduce these squabbles,” he said. said.

“We are looking for them to come to an agreement and mediate so that we don’t have to deal with these behaviors so that we can really keep the community safe.

“We need them to have a stake in doing it as well.”

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