Family and supporters of the Whittaker family gathered outside NSW Parliament on December 6 to demand justice for Eric Whittaker who died in custody in July.
Eric died, shackled to a hospital bed. The horrific nature of his treatment in custody has only come to light because a photo of him lying manacled and unconscious was only recently given to the media.
Diane Whittaker, one of Eric’s aunts, told protesters that there had been a failure in duty of care and that people had to be held responsible for the cruelty shown her nephew.
Daisy Fernando, another of Eric’s aunts, sat silently by, nodding. She declined to address the rally because, she said, it was too upsetting.
Eric was just 36 when he died in Westmead Hospital, officially of an aneurysm. In reality, he died because of the racism of the corrective services system.
Twenty six years after the 1991 Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody recommended restraints be used as “a last resort” the prison guards shackled a dying, unconscious Indigenous man. Corrective services insist that Eric Whittaker was treated in line with protocol. It is not treating his death as suspicious.
Eric was arrested on June 27 and bail was refused. He was charged with possession of stolen goods, carrying a knife in a public place and failure to appear before court. He was transferred from Surry Hills Police Station to Parklea jail and — incredibly — put into maximum security. It was later revealed that he had been put into isolation.
On July 2, authorities realised something was wrong, but conflicting accounts about that have been given to his family. He was sent to Blacktown Hospital, bound hand and foot. Later that day, Eric's next of kin, his aunt Natasha Whittaker, was called. Just before midnight Eric was moved to intensive care at Westmead.
Daisy went to visit him the next day and said he was being kept alive by machines. She could not feel a pulse. She was the first of her family to see her nephew had been shackled, and demanded that the restraints be removed. They treated him “like a mongrel dog”, she said.
Raul Bassi of the Indigenous Social Justice Association repeated the family’s call for those responsible to be held accountable.