He was stopped by three white police officers in tactical response-type outfits after dropping his son at daycare on the way to his videographer job at Sydney University.
“I get surrounded,” he said. “There’s an officer in front of me, an officer at the side and behind me. I was like, ‘What’s going on?’. They said I fit the description of someone that they were looking for.”
Ozies asked who they were looking for and, when he was told, produced ID to show it was not him.
“Any other situation you think they would let me go, right? But I was detained for another 30 minutes because they wanted to run a background check on me, making sure I didn’t have any outstanding warrants.
“I was like, ‘Did you really stop me because I looked like someone or did you just need an excuse to run a check in the hope that I’m a troublemaker?’ Let’s get real: Annandale is pretty much a white suburb. So a black man in a white neighbourhood? ‘He must be up to something’.”
Ozies said incidents such as this and the lack of action on 432 Indigenous deaths in custody since the royal commission’s findings on the issue in 1991 had left him with no trust in the police. But he thinks his documentary, Our Law, offers hope.
“Education is the one thing that will make change,” he said.
The documentary centres on what he believes is Western Australia’s – and possibly the country’s – only entirely Indigenous police station in outback Warakurna.
Acting Senior Sergeant Revis Ryder and Acting Sergeant Wendy Kelly work closely with the Yarnangu community by learning their language, Ngaanyatjarra, and culture and de-escalating confrontation.
“Arrest rates have dropped dramatically, crime has dropped, you’ve got a community kind of self-policing,” Ozies said. “They’re like, ‘Respect Wendy and Revis, get your act together’. You show interest in someone’s culture, automatically you’ve already built some rapport.”
Our Law is screening in the $10,000 Australian documentary competition in the virtual edition of the Sydney Film Festival, which starts next Wednesday, and will be broadcast on NITV this month.
Acting Senior Sergeant Ryder said for a Noongar man from the Perth area, the remote community was “totally new” so he wanted to learn the language and culture.
“A big tool in policing is communication,” he said. “If you don’t have the know-how to talk to people, you’re going to fail.”
Get our Morning & Evening Edition newsletters
Garry Maddox is a Senior Writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.