In recent years there has been an important revival of Invasion Day marches on January 26. Together with the issues of Aboriginal sovereignty and ongoing injustices against First Nations people, Raul Bassi writes that a focus of this year’s protest will be Black deaths in custody.
Black deaths in custody
Vickie Roach is a Yuin woman, a survivor of the Stolen Generation and a writer. She gave this speech at Ray Jackson’s memorial celebrations at Redfern Community Centre on April 21.
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I’d first like to acknowledge the Gadigal people and the Eora nation whose land we meet on here today and pay my respect to Ancestors and Elders, past and present.
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.
“This has to be the last death”, Nioka Chatfield, the mother of a 22-year-old Aboriginal man who recently died in custody told a rally in Sydney on September 29.
“I nominate myself. I want to be the last Aboriginal mother crying for my child,” she told the protest that was called on the first anniversary of Wayne Fella Morrison's death in custody and the 34th anniversary of the death of John Pat in Western Australia, which sparked the Stop Black Deaths in Custody movement.
A 22-year-old Aboriginal man has died in custody after being found unconscious in his cell at the Tamworth Correctional Centre on September 20. He was taken to hospital and died two days later.
Even before an investigation has been undertaken, the police and some media have said his death is not “suspicious” — a deliberate attempt to pass judgement that his death was a suicide.
But his family, who rallied outside Tamworth Correctional Centre on September 24 say he had no reason to self-harm.
A rally for justice for David Dungay-Hill junior, a Dunghutti man from Kempsey, was organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Assocation last December 29.
Dungay-Hill, a 26-year-old Aboriginal man, was an inmate in Long Bay Prison. A sufferer of chronic diabetes, Dungay-Hill ate a biscuit in his cell to restore his blood sugar levels. For this “crime”, eight officers restrained him while another administered a sedative. Seconds later he cried “I can't breathe” and within a minute he was dead.
Dominic Wykanak read out this moving tribute by Debbie Small to her daughter Rebecca Maher who died in police custody in July, at a rally against Black deaths in custody at Blacktown on September 17.
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It has been two months since a young Wiradjuri woman Rebecca Maher died within hours of being placed in a Maitland police cell.
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.
On February 14, 2004, as a consequence of a police pursuit, a Redfern police car driven by Constable Michael Hollingsworth rammed TJ Hickey’s bicycle. As a result, he was impaled on a spiked metal fence. The police did not follow proper medical practice and he died in hospital the next day.
This year will be the 10-year anniversary of his death. The Hickey family, with the support of the Indigenous Social Justice Association, will be rallying at the fence line on the corner of George and Phillip streets in Waterloo to mark the occasion.