Aboriginal deaths in custody

A 59-year-old Aboriginal man died in Darwin on May 21 while being held under controversial new “paperless arrest laws”. These laws give police the powers to arrest people for summary offences — such as “obscenity”, undue noise, offensive language — and hold them for up to four hours at a time. In NSW, a program that has been proved to prevent Aboriginal deaths in custody has lost funding under the federal government’s ironically named Indigenous Advancement Strategy.
Hundreds of Australians endure the ordeal of jail because of unpaid fines. Their poverty is a burden. Disproportionately, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are incarcerated “to pay off” their fines. Ray Jackson, president of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, says this “draconian practice criminalises people and destroys families and futures”. Recently, “unpaid fines” cost the life of a 22-year-old Yamatji woman, Juliecka Dhu. Dhu and her boyfriend, Dion Ruffin, were arrested on August 2 and detained by Western Australia’s South Hedland police.
Victoria police have apologised to the family of a man who died hours after being released from police custody in 2010. The Age reported on November 20: "Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright, who is responsible for all people in police custody across the state, said officers at Dandenong police station had fallen well short of community expectations on how they treated Gong Ling Tang on May 12, 2010.
"Thirty Years But Still No Justice!" was the theme of an Aboriginal deaths in custody forum held in Redfern on July 27. Speakers addressed issues of deaths in custody, victims of police brutality and other social justice concerns. The forum was also the Sydney launch of the National Deaths in Custody Coalition (NDCC), established in February this year to organise for a national day of action on Saturday, September 28 to mark 30 years since the death at police hands of WA Aboriginal youth John Pat in 1983. The meeting was sponsored by the Indigenous Social Justice Association.
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.
Aboriginal rights protesters gathered outside the Northern Territory tourism bureau in Sydney on March 21 to protest the death in custody of 28-year-old Aboriginal man Terrence Briscoe, and to condemn the “Stronger Futures” bill that will extend the NT intervention. Deaths in custody campaigner Ray Jackson told the rally: “When Terrence died in a police cell, the family were first told it was a heart attack. Then it was respiratory. Then it was asphyxiation. How do you asphyxiate? When police jump all over you, forcing your breath out.
A rally outside Queensland state parliament on September 14 demanded the charging of police who break the law, a full royal commission into the state’s police force and real accountability. After the rally, a delegation from the Aboriginal community met police minister Neil Roberts and discussed issues arising from the deaths in custody crisis. Below is an excerpt from the speech Murri leader and Socialist Alliance member Sam Watson gave at the rally. * * *
Outstanding service Fairfax columnist Gerald Henderson quotes Australian Workers’ Union leader Paul Howes concerning the family background of Greens Senate candidate Lee Rhiannon in the July 27 Sydney Morning Herald. I knew her parents, Bill and Freda Brown, since 1944, and I was privileged to be Bill’s campaign director when he stood for the federal parliament on several occasions.
Five hundred people rallied outside the Perth Supreme Court Gardens on July 11 to demand that the coronial investigation into Mr Ward's tragic death be reopened. Mr Ward, a respected Aboriginal elder, was literally cooked to death in the back of a prisoner van while being driven from Laverton to Kalgoorlie to face court for a traffic offence in January 2008. The coroner found that temperatures inside the van reached 47° Celsius and that metal surfaces in the van would have reached 56°C.
Deaths in Custody Watch Committee (Western AAustralia) spokesperson, Marc Newhouse today announced a series of protest actions to be held following the Director of Public Prosecutions’ decision not to lay criminal charges against any of the parties responsible for the death in custody of Mr Ward in 2008. Mr Ward, an Aboriginal elder, died while being transported hundreds of kilometres across the WA Goldfields in a privately-operated prison van with faulty air conditioning.

TJ Hickey Park, cnr George & Phillip St, Waterloo for march to NSW Parliament
For almost 14 years, the Hickey family and the Indigenous Social Justice Association has been demanding the reopening of the Coronial Inquiry into the killing of then 16-year-old TJ during a police pursuit. for almost 14 years. They have had meetings with one Attorney General, two Aboriginal Affairs ministers, sent letters to three premiers, few police ministers, rallied to NSW Parliament House almost 10 times and present petitions, but all to no avail.

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