The WA Police Union has been accused of racism against Aboriginal people during NAIDOC week after posting a social media tribute for an officer involved in a devastating massacre.
In a now deleted tweet, the union wrote: “Today we remember Captain Theophilus Ellis who was murdered in Pinjarra on this day in 1834.”
He was knocked from his horse during the Pinjarra massacre and died from his injuries.
Outraged social media users flooded the union’s Twitter account with responses, demanding they take down the tribute.
The tweet was deleted and replaced with an apology.
“Yesterday, a tweet was posted which after a number of requests we removed,” the union posted on Thursday.
“The information contained in the tweet regarding the death of a police officer was taken from the official honour roll.
“We apologise for any hurt caused.”
But some people remain angry and disappointed with the union, including one who wrote: “No pride in genocide.”
Others called for changes to the honour roll system.
“The official honour roll will need to be amended to reflect the truth of what that British soldier was up to when he fell off his horse,” one person wrote.
Another person said the union was living “in the dark ages”, describing the original tweet as “embarrassing and shameful”.
“Your organisation is out of step with how the commissioner is steering the WA Police Force culturally. Your boys club is out of touch,” they wrote.
Asked about it on 6PR radio on Thursday, WA Police Commissioner Chris Dawson said: “The fact that it’s been deleted speaks for itself.”
Mr Dawson said the union should only be an advocate for union issues.
“So something that happened in 1834 is not a current workers condition. They’re there to advocate for the employment issues,” he said.
“They’re not there, in my view, as a public commentary for anything to do with police.
“But I can’t instruct the union in what they put out on Twitter.”
Speaking more broadly about reconciliation, Mr Dawson said there was still unfinished business.
“In terms of the healing that has and is taking place between police and Aboriginal people, we’ve got to work together,” he said.
“Anything that doesn’t bring us closer together is not going to contribute to the healing.”
Mr Dawson later told reporters he did not think it was the right decision for the union to post the tribute online.
“If it was a good judgment call, it would not have been taken down,” he said.