'A death in custody is a police murder'

Issue 

On the third anniversary of the death of young Aboriginal man TJ Hickey, his mother Gail told a rally of some 200 people at the site of his death in Redfern that her family was still being harassed by the cops. Hickey said police harassment of young people in Redfern must stop, or there would be more deaths like that of her son, who was impaled on a fence while being chased by police.

Aboriginal leaders from around the country came to Sydney to show their support for the campaign. Among the many who spoke at the rally were Robbie Thorpe from Melbourne, Sam Watson from Brisbane and Grace Smallwood from Townsville.

"Things are changing", Thorpe said, referring to the charging of police officer Chris Hurley for Mulrunji's death in custody on Palm Island in 2004. Thorpe stressed that the ongoing injustice was a result of Aboriginal dispossession. He also hit out at lawyers and the justice system for failing Aboriginal people.

The rally marched to the old Redfern police station where Jenny Munro addressed the crowd, reading a list of demands for a new inquiry that would include access to evidence not allowed in the initial inquiry, such as ambulance and police reports of the incident, and that would allow an independent forensic examination of TJ's bicycle.

Watson, who helped spearhead the campaign for justice for Mulrunji, gave greetings from Palm Island activists, and said that the movement was not going to accept one more Aboriginal death in custody. "A death in custody is a police murder. That's what it is, and that's what it should be called."

Watson highlighted that "The only way we can achieve justice is as a community".

Ray Jackson from the Indigenous Social Justice Association, an organiser of the protest, explained that a plaque marking TJ's death, initiated by Indigenous students, had still not been put up. The police are refusing to allow it, as the plaque contains the words "died in pursuit". They still insist that TJ died in an "accident".

Jackson recounted how police had removed TJ from the fence on which he was impaled, against basic first aid procedure. Jackson also explained allegations that police replaced the back wheel of TJ's bike, which is believed to have been buckled by a pursuing police car.

Film-maker and writer John Pilger told the crowd: "Until we whites give back to black Australians their nationhood, we can never claim our own." He spoke about how Australian "values" and national pride are political distractions from the daily injustices committed against Aboriginal people, including the state of police siege faced by many communities.

Raul Bassi, who helped organise the protest and who is standing, along with Aboriginal activist Jakalene X, in the NSW upper house elections for the Socialist Alliance, summed up the mood by pledging that the campaign would continue until the police officers responsible were brought to justice. "And we won't stop until there is justice over stolen wages and justice over stolen land."

Thorpe told the crowd: "Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people need to come together. That's what's going to tip the balance in our favour."

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