TJ Hickey: What do nine years mean?

Monday, January 14, 2013
Rally for justice for TJ Hickey, 2012. (Photo: Peter Boyle)

For nine long years Gail Hickey and her family have indefatigably campaigned for justice over the death of their son, TJ Hickey, an Aboriginal man who was 17 years old. He died as a consequence of a pursuit by Redfern police that ended with his death the following day.

For nine long years Gail, the family and their supporters have been telling and re-telling the history. His bike was rammed by a police car, he was thrown in the air with great force, and landed on a spiked fence line with great force.

Instead of giving proper medical attention, the first police officer on the scene, then-Constable Michael Hollingsworth, roughly pulled TJ off the spikes and threw him to the concrete. He then searched TJ, who bled heavily despite the alleged assistance.

Basic first aid rules, as all police are trained for, insist that impaled victims must be left in position or to remain impaled until the police rescue unit is called to assist. When the police rescue unit did arrive with medically trained and competent staff, Hollingsworth sent them away. Finally two ambulances arrived and took over but instead of taking him to the closest hospital he was transported to the Prince of Wales hospital at Randwick. He died early next morning.

For nine long years we have witnessed the history of every police death in custody repeated in this case: the innocents were convicted and jailed and the guilty got away and were promoted.

That Sunday night the many youth who knew TJ and others who blamed the Redfern police for the death of TJ became involved in the so-called Redfern riots. These young people were angered by the police driving through and around the Block in Redfern telling Aboriginal kids that they would be next and disrespecting the Hickey family in their grief by pointing to them and laughing.

Family complaints were ignored by the senior police of the time and their rightful anger was later vented. But in the aftermath of these events the police officers involved were promoted, the fighters for justice were arrested, some of who were convicted and even did some time in jail. The Carr state government, concerned about future reactions, offered a “Taj Mahal” in Redfern, building the Redfern Community Centre in the Block as a tokenistic act to calm Aboriginal people.

Nine years ago the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) became involved and offered Gail Hickey the services of a solicitor and a barrister who were expected to carry out a vigorous fight for justice for the Hickey family.

The police and the Carr government, however, had other ideas and talked Gail into accepting a government-and-police-sponsored legal team that did very little in representing the family in their fight for justice.

Nine years ago the NSW Coroner, John Abernethy, firmly restricted the scope of the coronial inquest. The allowable evidence was also restricted. Normal legal and coronial procedures and practices were not followed, such as presenting the final autopsy report. This report would have confirmed that TJ was thrown with massive force on to the fence line, denying the police claim of a bike accident. Also TJ’s bicycle was not presented in court as evidence but remained as “evidence of a police investigation”.

Perplexingly, when the bike was handed back to the family, they noticed that both bike wheels had been replaced by new ones and did not show any damage caused by the ramming to the rear wheel as was shown in a TV news bulletin.

The court also blocked two witness, who were found by ISJA, that saw the police rescue unit arrive and leave as instructed by Hollingsworth. The Coroner stopped the participation of a medically qualified forensic consultant, Dr Carl Hughs, appearing for the family.

Despite a threat by the counsel assisting the Coroner to summon the mobile phone communications between the four police officers involved in the incident, it never happened. Also a police officer, who was a direct participant in the incident, was moved immediately from Redfern police station that weekend for his own safety, allegedly fearing reprisals from the Block community. He gave his testimony and then disappeared to an unknown destination.

Now, nine years later there are still serious concerns about processes and outcomes of the police investigation and also to the legal farce of the arranged coronial inquest.

So, for the ninth time, Gail, the family, the communities where TJ lived, ISJA and other supporters, continue to call for justice, the reopening of a wider investigation into the facts, the non-appearance of witnesses and all other withheld evidence, They call for a full forensic examination of the facts to reach an honest and just conclusion.

Now, we have reissued the petition calling for justice for TJ and his family. We need as many signatures as possible, a copy can be downloaded online.

Nine years is way too long to call for real justice, although other deaths in custody families have fought for more than 30 years. We have personally seen the physical and mental damage done to these families and it is nothing but state-sanctioned torture by governments and their police forces to allow these injustices to continue.

Many more than nine years of struggle gives Ray Jackson, president of ISJA, the right to ask Prime Minister Julia Gillard, “What about recognising over 400 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander deaths in custody since January 1, 1980, and including those suicides and deaths in her racist NT Intervention?”

Nine years ago we recognised the death of TJ as a continuation of the racist police action towards Aboriginal people in this country. Today we know that as it was true at the time, so was it in the Mulrunji, Mr Ward, Mr Briscoe cases, among so many others.

What we also came to realise was that behind the protection of their police “no matter what” by governments and courts, the continuous enactment of laws empowering police, the provision to the forces with new weapons like water cannon, capsicum spray, tasers, and the development of new tactics of crowd control, a riot squad, internet vigilance, engagement of some community organisations and community individuals, was a perfectly orchestrated anti-social plan.

This plan, aimed against our most elemental democratic and human rights, was carried out to stop active social dissent, to attack Aboriginal people, migrant and religious minorities first, and to also include ethnic solidarity organisations, anti-war groups, and broader protest groups like Occupy and workers like the Grocon protests in Melbourne and others who were deemed to be non-compliant and therefore dangerous to the establishment.

Now on the ninth anniversary of TJ’s death we have to multiply our efforts to get the broadest participation possible to allow us to neutralise the waves of police brutality and their indiscriminate and torturous use of tasers and pepper spray.

Confronting us, however, is a particular sense of immunity instilled in the police by the lack of public and independent investigations of any incidents where police were involved that resulted in damages, injury or even death of people. The struggle for justice for TJ and for others who have died in custody is totally entangled in that constant battle between the oppressors and the oppressed.

This battle is happening everywhere and it is very important that we win it. Every win counts because each step forward brings the possibility to recover our diminished rights. Gail Hickey, the family and their supporters don’t want to mark a 10th anniversary without justice.

Join the struggle to make this a reality.

[Ray Jackson is an Aboriginal elder, long-time campaigner for Aboriginal rights and president of the ISJA. Raul Bassi is member of the ISJA and the Socialist Alliance.

A march to NSW Parliament House, headed by Gail Hickey and the family, will take place on February 14 at 10.30am. During this rally the petition will be presented to the Attorney General.

Please post signed petition to ISJA by February 11 to 1303/200 Pitt Street, Waterloo, 2017. Contact the ISJA or the Deaths in Custody campaign for more petitions, leaflets and posters.]

From GLW issue 950