Listen: Peter Gibbs shares about the death of a family member in police custody and how the iPROWD program seeks to repair the relationship between Indigenous Australians and police
Peter Gibbs is a Gomeroi man from Western New South Wales, whose family experienced what is all too common in indigenous communities: the death of a family member in police custody.
Since the royal commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody handed down its final report in 1991, at least 474 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people died while under police responsibility, The Guardian reported in April, this year.
Peter’s sister Fiona Gibbs, 28, was among that number when she died by suicide in 1997 in a cell in the outback town of Brewarrina. She was placed on 24-hour guard but was left unattended for 15 minutes, which is all the time it took for Fiona to end her life.
Amid the grief of losing Fiona, Peter resolved her legacy wouldn’t be one that feeds division between Indigenous communities and the police, but seeks to repair it.
In 2008 Peter founded iPROWD, the Indigenous Police Recruitment Our Way Delivery program, training Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates for a career in the police force.
Offered by a number of outlets including TAFE NSW, Peter told Hope 103.2, “It’s about creating relationship between Aboriginal people and NSW Police”.
“Historically, and currently, there is no relationship,” he said.
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“We know right across our country we’ve got, what we would call in our community, an absolute epidemic of deaths in police custody – when we know it’s preventable.
“iPROWD is about going to the pointy end of the spear and saying, ‘We need Aboriginal people in NSW Police’.
“There is no back-door opportunity to join police just for Aboriginal people. We go in through the front door and equip young people to give them an opportunity to be wearing that blue uniform.
“It does something great in our community when parents and grandparents have such a historically poor relationship [with the police] see their loved ones joining the force.”
This National Reconciliation Week, May 27-June 3, Peter sees his story as one that can exemplify what happens when bridges are built instead of broken, and encourages his fellow Christians to be on the frontline of removing racial division.
“I’d love the Christians to really pray for us,” he said.
“Don’t just sit back and say, ‘It’s their problem, they need to get over it, the government’s looking after them’, you pray for them.
“I [also] want to challenge Christians to get involved in the Aboriginal community. And you can only do that from building relationship, and from building relationship you build an understanding.”
Listen to Peter’s full interview with Laura Bennett in the player above.