No black-out, no whitewash: Reopen the TJ inquiry!

February 1, 2008

Four years ago, 17-year-old Aboriginal teenage Thomas "TJ" Hickey was impaled on a metal-spiked fence in Sydney's inner-city Waterloo suburb after his bicycle was rammed by a police vehicle. Proper medical practices were not followed by the police and TJ died in hospital the next day, February 15. If proper practices had been followed, TJ would probably be alive today.

As is a norm in all police-initiated black deaths in custody, the cover up started immediately. Everyone was involved, from the premier to the police commissioner. Even the coroner did his bit — refusing to hear some witnesses, not allowing proper legal representation to TJ's family, stopping some crucial evidence being presented. The police officers involved in TJ's death were of course exonerated.

In November 2004, there was another black death in custody — this time on Palm Island, off Townsville. Thirty-six-year-old Mulrunji Doomadgee died after having been arrested for drunkenness by senior sergeant Christopher Hurley. While being held at the police station Doomadgee suffered four broken ribs and his liver was split almost in two — in fact hanging together only by a couple of blood vessels.

Again, the cover-up was ready, but in the wake of continued demands for justice from Palm Island residents and their supporters across Queensland, in September 2006, deputy state coroner Christine Clements found Hurley had repeatedly punched Mulrunji and left him to die after the bashing, despite his cries for help. She recommended Hurley face criminal prosecution.

But the obscure forces of injustice kept working. The police denounced Clements claiming she'd run an anti-police "witch-hunt" to please the residents of Palm Island. The director of public prosecutions decided that Hurley had mo case to answer and the death of Mulrunji was a "tragic accident".

But again the Aboriginal people of Palm Island and their supporters around Australia demanded justice. In the face of mounting public pressure, the then state primer, Peter Beattie, announced that former NSW chief justice Sir Laurence Street would conduct an independent inquiry into the case. Street recommended that Hurley face criminal charges.

But still, when the trial was held, "White Australian justice" was at work and Hurley was acquitted in June 2006 by a Townsville jury.

"White" Australia's impunity and injustice as far at black deaths in custody was confirmed once more.

Only those who protested this injustice were convicted. One of them, Palm Island resident Lex Wotton, became an example of resistance for Aborigines and non-Aborigines, refusing to plead guilty to "rioting" in November 2004. His trial will be held on April 7. We have to support Lex in his struggle for justice, for himself and the Palm Island people.

"White" Australia should be asking itself, as the Aboriginal people are, why so many black people have died at the hands of the "law"?

Also, there is another question, very important for the Aboriginal people — whose son, brother, sister, cousin, uncle or aunt will die this year at the hands of the police?

The only answer to these questions is protest to put a stop to the deaths and get true justice for those who have already died in custody. Support the rally and march for TJ on the fourth anniversary of his death, February 14. The rally commences at 11 am at the fence where he was impaled, on the corner of George and Philip streets, Waterloo.

TJ's family, still fighting for justice, will be at the rally, and a family member will be speaking. TJ mother has not given up her demand that a plaque be placed at the site. This plaque, donated at the first anniversary of TJ's death, couldn't be attached to the fence, because of the opposition of the NSW government and the police who refused to accept the plaque's statement that TJ died due to "police pursuit".

The rally is being organized by the Indigenous Social Justice Association, supported by the Socialist Alliance. The organisers are also calling for support for the National Convergence to Canberra on February 12 to demand that the new federal government stop its NT intervention.

For more information about the Justice for TJ rally, phone Ray Jackson on 041 585 8264 or Raul Bassi on 040 303 7376.

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