Kumanjayi Walker: more than 1,000 protest Yuendumu police shooting

Lorena Allam

More than 1,000 people have marched in Alice Springs to protest against the police shooting of Kumanjayi Walker in the central Australian community of Yuendumu.

An NT police officer, Zachary Rolfe, has been charged with murdering the 19-year-old Warlpiri man on Saturday night. Rolfe, 28, intends to plead not guilty, the NT Police Association said on Thursday.

Protests and vigils have sprung up across the country demanding a full and independent investigation. Elders called for calm as the rally approached the Alice Springs police station.

Warlpiri elder Harry Jakamarra Nelson told the crowd: “Please, we come in peace. We want to know the truth. No more lies. That incident last week hit us like a rocket. We didn’t know what to do, we were shocked.

“At this gathering I’m telling you, once again, this is a peaceful rally.”

Rolfe was charged with murder on Wednesday night and has been released on bail to appear in Alice Springs court in December. He has been suspended on pay, police confirmed.

The police association said Rolfe would “vigorously contest the charge”.

“He, like all, has the presumption of innocence in his favour.

“The member and his family have the complete support of the NTPA, as do all of his colleagues and all of our members, who put their lives at risk every day to protect the community of the Northern Territory from violent offending,” the association said.

Earlier, the Northern Territory’s chief minister and police commissioner both called for calm.

Related: Kumanjayi Walker: NT police officer charged with Yuendumu murder suspended on pay

The chief minister, Michael Gunner, said it was “his job to make sure the Territory goes through a healing process and goes back to normal as soon as possible”.

“This is an incredibly sad time for all. It is a time of high emotion. There are many people hurting in Yuendumu and around the Northern Territory and in our police force,” Gunner said.

“It is my priority that the community of Yuendumu, a community that is in a lot of pain right now, and other communities and towns in the Northern Territory who are also hurting, are supported to return to normal to make sure that kids are going to school, to make sure they have the healthcare that they need, to make sure they are still receiving critical services.

“That is why we are helping people get home from Alice Springs after the rallies today.”

Hundreds of Warlpiri people and their supporters, including a big contingent of families from Yuendumu, gathered in Alice Springs on Thursday to march to the law courts.

The Walker family and Yuendumu community said they welcomed the murder charge, but wanted the coronial inquest to take place in Yuendumu, and pushed for alternative community policing, such as night patrol.

The NT police commissioner, Jamie Chalker, said Territorians needed to “come together to work towards the future of our home”.

“My officers are hurting, the community is hurting. My intention is to help you all,” he said on Thursday.

“The path we are on will be a search for the truth. We have reached a point where the court will need to make the decision. Everybody must respect that process.

“Everybody must respect that anyone involved in this process is afforded natural justice,” Chalker said. “I need all my officers to step to the fore, to trust in one another, trust in the process, to remember the oath they took and the importance of integrity, ethics and fairness.”

A justice rally for Kumanjayi Walker in Melbourne on Wednesday. Photograph: David Crosling/EPA

The Yuendumu community has also called for 24-hour medical staffing of its health clinic. The clinic was closed on the day of the shooting after “community unrest”, according to the NT health department, forcing staff to leave the town.

The local independent MP, Scott McConnell, told Guardian Australia he supported calls for better services, saying the situation in Yuendumu was the result of “bad policies from a bad government”.

“Remote police stations have been downgraded, remote clinics have been downgraded. They have severely eroded the relationship with Aboriginal communities and it is the NT government’s fault,” McConnell said.

“We are not delivering even basic services to these communities and the care factor about it is absolutely zero. Our priorities are completely wrong.”

The chief executive of the North Australian Aboriginal Justice Agency, Priscilla Collins, said justice for Aboriginal people would remain an issue “until racism is acknowledged, confronted and addressed across our nation”.

“The people of Yuendumu have demonstrated great dignity and resilience throughout these heartbreaking events.

“It is of vital importance that this murder charge now properly proceed through the criminal justice system.”

Labor’s spokeswoman for Indigenous Australians, Linda Burney, told ABC radio she was confident an independent and thorough investigation would take place, even though there was “enormous surprise out there in the community that bail has been given”.

“However, the most important thing that the family’s asking for is calm and respect.

“People are still very much feeling the wrath of the intervention – the poverty, the lack of clean water in communities, is something that most people would be astounded at. And those broad issues are what people are very frustrated about as well.”