Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Kicked to death by "persons of good character"

There are times when I wonder if we really are in a post-racial world and I should stop worrying about racism. We've come a long way after all. And then there are other times when I am reminded of how little some things change.

This story is a few weeks old now, but I just came across it and it sickened me so much I had to share it with you. Even if you choose not to see it as being primarily about racism, it certainly is a sad indictment on the savagery some people are capable of.

A group of men dubbed "The Ute Five" after the vehicle they drove, left an Alice Springs Casino drunk at 6am, July 25 2009. Scott Doody, Timothy Hird, Joshua Spears, Anton Kloeden, and Glen Swain, all aged between 18 and 23, decided to have fun by terrorising a groups of Aborigines who were camped along the route they were travelling. They did this by driving straight at them, intentionally driving with a metre of an elderly man to scare him, then doubling back to run over his swag. They then drove at a second group sleeping at another camp, who fled in terror.

You'd think that would be enough. But they returned to the home of Hird and Swain to pick up more alcohol, and a pistol with blank ammunition with which they intended to further scare Aborigines. They returned to the first camp and continued their intimidating behaviour. One of the Aboriginal men, Kwementyaye Ryder, responded by throwing a bottle at their car. The 5 men stopped and chased Ryder, who tripped and fell. They kicked him in the head, saying "Don't f*ck with us," and Spears hit him over the head with the bottle. Ryder lay motionless and sensing something was wrong, the men fled. Over the course of the next week, they lied to police about the incident, until Swain finally confessed.

If that was the end of the story, it would be bad enough. But it gets worse. Not just that the memorial cross erected to honour Ryder (pictured) was set on fire several months after the incident. It is the verdict by Chief Justice Brian Martin that is the icing on the cake.

Blogger Michael Brull describes it best:

Those are the facts. Justice Martin then had the task of interpreting them. He concluded that this 'crime is toward the lower end of the scale of seriousness for crimes of manslaughter'. Not enough violence was inflicted, and the defendants supposedly could not have foreseen a serious risk of death from their violent attack. Repeatedly kicking someone in the head and hitting him with a bottle and then fleeing when the victim was motionless is apparently not recklessness, but negligence to Justice Martin.

Yet there is one other factor which played a crucial role in Justice Martin's sentencing, and is arguably the most appalling part of his decision. Justice Martin went out of his way to provide character references for every single defendant. Doody is 'a person of positive good character'. Hird is a 'solid, hard-working young man of good character'. Kloeden has an 'underlying good character'. Spears is a 'person of very good character'. Swain, like Kloeden, was a 'person of underlying good character'. These men of good character repeatedly terrorised Aboriginal people for being Aboriginal, before getting a gun to terrorise them further, ending the night by beating a man to death, and then casually driving away without checking if their victim was okay.

Justice Martin's grounds for these conclusions are astonishing. He notes character references in their favour, proving that many of them have friends and employers who think nice things about them. This hardly balances out what they did. He then scrapes the barrel in special pleading on their behalf, holding, for example, that Spears had never previously 'come into contact with the criminal law'. Considering he was 18 at the time, this is hardly such an achievement. Hird, Kloeden, and Swain, on the other hand, despite their youth had previously had difficulties with the law. Yet Justice Martin was able to claim that this was 'totally out of character' for all of them, and also that they were 'genuinely sorry'. Presumably he was able to judge their tremendous remorse from how they casually left the scene of the motionless man who soon died from their beating. This too was in their character. Or perhaps their remorse was manifested in the lies they worked on together to tell the cops. Or perhaps he judged their remorse in the fact that four out of five of them didn't cooperate with the police at all, and only one did when it was already apparent that they would be caught.

I'm surprised that society doesn't seem to have woken up to the reality that repeatedly kicking someone in the head while they are on the ground is highly likely to result in their death. Punching someone is one thing, but when someone boots a prone person in the skull, I'm not quite sure what they think will happen, other than death or severe injury. But not only is this apparently not worthy of a murder charge, apparently it's only manslaughter due to negligence. Think on that for a moment.

Compare that sentence to the 15 year sentence (10 year minimum) handed out to a Melbourne man who robbed and killed a man by dropping him headfirst onto the footpath and kicking him in the head afterwards (read that here.)

So what sort of attitudes lead to this sort of vile incident? Some of the comments attached to the article are quite telling:
Jen (28 May 2010 10:21:19am):
If they weren't sleeping in a riverbed this wouldn't have happened. The boys more than likely wouldn't enter a house to provoke people. Come on, anyone who has seen the situation with both eyes know it is be a breeding ground for 'trouble makers'. A very unfortunate event. Clean up the river bed to prevent (goodness forbid) future incidents of this kind.

Frank (27 May 2010 1:39:51pm):
The author has a massive chip on his shoulder and refuses to see the criminal justice system in Australia for what it is. This was an appalling incident, but one of many that receive similarly light sentences.
It's a terrible fact that as in many cities and towns, Alice Springs has racists (black and white) living in it. Although it was central to the crime, it is not, and nor should be central to the sentence.
People are assaulted and killed for all sorts of reasons, why should race elevate the sentence?
As others have posted, I also wonder how ashamed of being Jewish the poster is, given the Jewish attacks on Palestinans.

Robinoz (27 May 2010 11:14:38am):
I do understand the lack of respect for descendents of the First Australians living at Alice Springs. Respect must be earned. As for the author, if he's ashamed to live in Australia, the solution is simple. There are numerous ports and airports, choose one and leave. It's not compulsory to live in Australia with all the benefits that entails. Maybe Israel would be a good alternative.

CRISNT (27 May 2010 9:35:16am) :

Be born in Alice, grow up in Alice, live in Alice then have an opinion about what was. Otherwise your misinformed opinions are just that. This crime pales to others. The sentences in this case were manifestly excessive when compared to the sentences handed out on a repeated basis to traditional Aboriginal men who kill or seriously mame there wives or other aboriginal men. And I challenge anyone to disprove that fact!!  In so far as the sentencing and judgement is concerned, the level of punitive racism within the sentencing and judges comments is only on a par to that of the circumstances of the offence committed. Pity this Author wasn't so ardently shamed and embarrased when Jacinta Ryan was repeatedly raped and left for dead in the streets of Alice springs by three youths from Areyonga, and who recieved sentences of mere months. Lets see you get all tied up about that case, but I bet you don't. Bad things happen, get over it.

And we wonder why these incidents happen.


  1. $@%$#^#$^%^@!@$##$^%$

    *tears out hair*

  2. And what to say? How to stop horrible things like this happening when there are people (obviously, many people, maybe even majority) who can DEFEND a murder????

    A man died. He was killed by another man, full of hate, and privilege. It was a murder. How could anyone defend it?

    Would they defend it if it was their father, brother, or a husband murdered?

    And please don't tell me, EA, that there are actually some people who don't see racism here?

  3. @ Mira:

    I think it is generally accepted that it was racially motivated; the judge definitely said so.

    I'm sure there are some who would play down the racism angle though - you can see that if you read the comments on the original article - and see it as just about violence.

    While there is certainly plenty of random violence about that can suddenly erupt, but this is different. I don't think someone could act that way, to that extent, towards a group of people unless they thought they were clearly superior to them. Unless someone is just purely evil, they would need to dehumanise someone a whole lot before they were able to behave so callously.

  4. To be honest, I wasn't really thinking about the murderers; I mean, they are clearly the bad guys in this story. I am more concerned about this "public opinion", about those people who can actually defend these murderers, and try to make it look like Kwementyaye Ryder's fault, or that they don't deserve to be punished for this little incident. I mean, those commenters didn't even pull the "they were young, blame the parents!" rand. Noooo, it's all about Ryder and "his people", how dare they to sleep in a riverbed!

    I mean, would them- any of them- so ready to defend murderers if the victim was, God forbid, their son (husband, brother, uncle)? I bet there would be people who'd say: "My husband doesn't sleep in a riverbed/ he's not looking for a trouble / is not that kind of a person".

    I guess they don't realize Kwementyaye Ryder was someone's son.

    PS-On a possibly related note:

    I'm surprised that society doesn't seem to have woken up to the reality that repeatedly kicking someone in the head while they are on the ground is highly likely to result in their death.

    Do you think it might be because of the movies? In the movies, hero (and other people) are often kicked in the head, and all they get is a headache.

  5. ^ Well, there's always plenty of people who have the urge to victim blame. Upon hearing about a girl being raped in a park, they'll immediately want to know what she was wearing, and why she was out there in the first place.

    Regarding kicks to the head, you may have a point there. But there's probably a bit of a difference between the sort of impact that most people could generate when kicking a standing person, and what you could do to someone on the ground. I imagine that in kicking someone on the ground, you would make solid contact with the skull using the point of your boot. Whereas kicking at the head during a fight might use a less damaging part of the foot. And I imagine that getting your foot up to head-height would lessen the strength behind the blow; not so for someone at ground level.

    Thing is, it is a generally accepted part of male culture (at least, in Australia) that you can have a punch-up with someone, but once they are down, you don't go any further. That principle seems to be waning and I'm not sure why.

    Some earlier posts about this phenomenon here:



  6. I'm appalled at the comments condoning the murder of an innocent human being. This is why violence like this happens, because the society condones it.

  7. I grew up in Alice springs and went to school with josh spears and for someone to say he was of good character really pisses me off that kid was an absolute monster he used to punch the f@&k out of me and my mates also follow us home and find out where we lived so he could toy with us everywhere he could he wasn't tough he just had older cousins and they were nutcases too that whole family has mental issues from what I have experienced. They always had lots of money so he was the bully rich kid. I served him at Flynn drive food land that night and he said to me " little gay shae" that's all he said I wonder what would of happened had I reacted. I hope they all rot in prison and when they get out the whole aboriginal community of Alice springs will be waiting. That fella who got murdered seemed to me to have a lot of friends and appeared to be a genuinely good personL