Rally condemns Black deaths in custody, calls for justice

July 21, 2017
Protesters on the march. Photo: Peter Boyle

Sydney rally condemns Aboriginal deaths in custody

Jim McIlroy


The July 19 anniversary of the death in custody of Aboriginal woman Rebecca Maher was marked by a march from Hyde Park to Parliament House. The march also protested the recent death of Indigenous man Eric Whittaker, a prisoner in Parklea Prison. The action was organised by the families and the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA).

The rally condemned the continuing killing of Aboriginal people in police and prison custody, with no one ever convicted of these crimes.

ISJA activist Uncle Ken Canning told the crowd: "The killings of our people began in 1788 with the white invasion, and continue to this day. Two families and communities have been devastated, and not one person has been held responsible for these crimes. We need independent bodies where we have a voice to investigate these deaths."

Aunty Kathy, representing the Maher family, said, "One year ago today, Rebecca died in Maitland Police Station, less than six hours after she was taken in custody. She was not charged with any crime."

It was a "paperless arrest", with no drugs or alcohol involved. She was not taken to a hospital or to her home, but placed in a police cell, and found dead at 6am. Her family were not informed until six hours later.

"Police ignored their own protocols," she said. "The CNS [Custody Notification Service, mandating notification to the Aboriginal Legal Service of Indigenous arrests] must be made a national law.

"And investigation of police by police must end. We need a fully independent inquiry into all Aboriginal deaths in custody."

The family of 35-year-old Whittaker have been given conflicting accounts of events leading up to his death. Corrective Services told relatives he fell in the prison yard, while police said he fell in the office. He suffered a brain haemorrhage and was taken to Westmead Hospital, where he died on July 4.

The family say he was shackled at the ankles while on life support and in a coma. Speakers at the rally condemned the police action, saying: "When you are on life support, you are technically dead".

[Another rally has been organised for July 28, at 11.30am at Hyde Park North, to mark 18 months since the death in custody of Aboriginal man David Dungay in Long Bay Prison.]

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