Stop deaths in custody groups form coalition

Saturday, May 4, 2013
A rally last year protesting the death in 2004 of Aboriginal youth TJ Hickey. (Photo: Peter Boyle.)

Social justice and anti-deaths in custody organisations around Australia formed a new national coalition on February 10.

The new group will allow for national actions to be organised when a death in custody occurs that requires a national response and coordinated action.

The organisations involved include the Indigenous Social Justice Association and the Deaths in Custody Watch committee.

Groups in other states and territories have expressed interest in joining the coalition.

The coalition’s first project will be to organise a nationally coordinated day of action on September 28 to show that 30 years after the criminal death of 16-year-old John Pat at Roebourne, WA, there still has been no justice for the Pat family.

To address this tragic issue, we fully support the demands of Mavis Pat, mother of John Pat.

Mavis Pat is demanding “an apology be made by the WA government for my son's death, that an ex-gratia payment be made as compensation, that the five drunken off-duty police officers responsible for the death of John Pat be brought to account and that there be a re-opening of the coronial inquest into my son’s death and finally that all Australian governments take action against racism in the police and the criminal justice system.”

After exhaustive discussion between the groups and their representatives many national objectives for this day of action were agreed on.

The landmark phone hook-up also agreed to strengthen and build the coalition and its campaigns around the country.

The goals of the coalition are to:

• Highlight that the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody failed to convict any custodial officer of criminal actions causing death and that its 339 recommendations were mainly rejected, especially by the police forces nationally, but also by prisons and juvenile justice centres in all states and territories.

• Highlight the human aspects of deaths in custody and demand the urgent need to improve culturally appropriate custodial health services, including mental health, as well as the necessity of entrenching an understanding of custodial duty of care in all officers.

• Connect Aboriginal deaths in custody to the broader social justice issues of Aboriginal sovereignty and treaties and the key need for cultural solutions that empower Aboriginal communities.

• Popularise legitimate demands for lasting solutions including the establishment of elected civilian police review boards that will be accountable to communities and end the infamous practice of police investigating police.

The theme of the National Day of Action to mark the 30th anniversary of the death of John Pat is “Thirty Years But Still No Justice — National Day of Action to Stop Aboriginal deaths in custody! Remember John Pat and the hundreds who have died in custody since! Support the demands made by John Pat’s mother, Mavis Pat.”

The rally will also raise the following demands:
• Stop Aboriginal deaths in custody and end the racist persecution of Aboriginal people;
• Build communities not prisons — end privatisation of custodial services;
• Hold the police and other custodial authorities to public account;
• End the ongoing harassment of deaths in custody families and provide government funding for national meetings of deaths in custody families to formulate a national solution.

From GLW issue 964