12 June 2020

"You all think I'm stealing": Black lives and police interactions in Bega

| Elka Wood
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Cayce Hill and Tekeisha Thomas at Giiyong Festival.

Cayce Hill (left) and Tekeisha Thomas (right) at last year’s Giiyong Festival in Eden. Photo: Supplied.

Following the killing of African-American George Floyd in the US city of Minneapolis last month, many Australians are calling for action to address Aboriginal deaths in custody and protests were held in all major cities last week.

So how does it feel being black in rural Australia in 2020? For 19-year-old Tekeisha Thomas, a Yuin woman from Bega, there’s a clear double standard for black and white.

“It’s really hard to be a black person and just walk down the street,” she says. “I have severe anxiety and I’ve never been in trouble with the police.”

Tekeisha says she has been stopped by the police multiple times while walking around Bega.

“I’ll just be walking to go into town,” she says. “It infuriates us. We do feel we’re being targeted because there are things white people do in front of the police, like walk around town and they don’t get stopped.”

Afraid she’ll be typecast, Tekeisha says she assumes all white people are thinking she’s stealing, or worse.

“We’ve never had anyone say to us, ‘We believe you,'” she says. “So what’s the point of even trying to explain?

“It’s because of all the stuff that happened before. It’s hard for black people to connect with the police, even black police. Once you see that blue uniform, it’s like, ‘You’re a cop now.'”

While her interactions with police have all ended well, Tekeisha says she is terrified of the thought of going to jail.

“In public, the police are OK but we’re all afraid because as soon as you’re in jail and people can’t see, it’s different,” she says. “I’m afraid if I go to jail, I’ll be manhandled. We’re all thinking, ‘Are we going to die if we go to jail?'”

Tekeisha Thomas holding baby at Giiyong Festival.

Tekeisha Thomas holds a friend’s baby at Eden’s Giiyong Festival. Photo: Supplied.

Tekeisha works with Cayce Hill, managing director of Bega’s Funhouse Studio. Cayce grew up in California and now lives in the Bega Valley with her family.

“I grew up being the only black person – apart from my own family – in a white neighbourhood in Claremont, near LA, where the slogan is ‘trees and PhDs’,” laughs Cayce.

Like most black Americans, Cayce says she has been pulled over by the police in the US for no apparent reason and that her sister had an officer pull a gun on her after her car was stolen and then returned to her by the police, but a mistake in the department meant the car was not recorded as having been returned.

“The police pulled over my sister thinking she had stolen her own car,” says Cayce. “Even after it was clear what had happened, she wouldn’t put her arms down. She was so scared. She told me she didn’t want to die in front of her own house.”

Cayce’s maternal grandmother is the daughter of a white plantation owner and a Jamaican woman, a child born out of wedlock during a time when black women were often raped and traded among white men.

“We talk about white history and black history, but the thing is, we have a shared history, which white people have been denying for so long,” says Cayce, clasping her hands together to illustrate her point.

“Whiteness is a lie. This idea of purity is a lie. Barack Obama was America’s ‘first black president’ but he is biracial.”

Cayce believes that police in the US “uphold an idea of racial purity,” says Cayce, while in rural Australia, it’s possible for a community to have positive relationships with the police because “everyone knows each other”.

Both Cayce and Tekeisha give a special mention to Senior Constable Sarah Bancroft from Police and Community Youth Clubs (PCYC) for her work with young people around Bega.

“I hope we can have a better relationship with police in the future and understand each other more, and communicate better,” says Tekeisha.

For Cayce, the only way to solve America’s police problems is to start over.

“We’ve got to get rid of these colonial systems that oppress certain groups, and pour funds into community development instead.”

The global resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement was sparked by the killing of George Floyd, but it’s clear the volcano has been bubbling for eons and continues in society as long as it neglects to address inequalities between black and white.

“It sucks being black, but at the same time, I’m so proud of it,” says Tekeisha with tears in her eyes.

“I know,” Cayce breaks in. “It’s so confusing. But even with all of that, I never once wished I was white, although it would be so much easier. I’ve only ever wanted to be accepted for who I am.”

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Great to hear these stories, well done all, good on ya Tekeisha and Cayce.

Nienke Haantjens5:50 pm 18 Jun 20

Fabulous article, thanks again, Elka!

Gorgeous girl Tekeisha.
The shame is not yours!
Well done for speaking up.
We need great kids like you to just be who they are.

Thanks to Cayce for sharing your story.
Thanks to Sen Constable Sarah Bancroft.
What you do with youth is so important.

Amanda Midlam8:58 am 15 Jun 20

Good on both these women for telling us their thoughts, feelings and experiences. When I see police I feel safe, that’s a vastly different experience. Also I know that if I am threatened or something goes wrong I can go to the police for help. What do you do if you can’t trust the police? Who do you go to? With my white experience I can’t imagine that and believe it is very important that we listen to black experience. Good on About Regional for publishing this local story about an important and often ignored issue.

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