For three decades, the Freedom Socialist Party in Australia has been a leader in the campaign to halt the criminal toll of Aboriginal people killed by police brutality and callous neglect. Racism against Aboriginal Australians is endemic. The result: poverty, joblessness, poor health, homelessness and a steady increase in the rate of imprisonment.
The following article is excerpted from “Supporters think global on the 10th anniversary of TJ Hickey’s death,” published in the December 2013 issue of the Freedom Socialist Organiser.
• • •
The image of young TJ Hickey with his cheeky grin is well known. If only the instant recognition was for his sports prowess, his artistic skills or his activism and contributions to his community. Instead, his face evokes grief and fuels the determination of the growing movement to stop deaths in custody. TJ grew up in the inner city suburb of Redfern where, like all Aboriginal people who endure racist over-policing of their community, he learned to fear the cops. So when they pursued him, he peddled his BMX bike as fast as he could.
Young life stolen. Seventeen-year-old TJ died in February 2004 after being impaled on a fence — an event directly caused by a police chase. The police argue TJ’s death was an accident. But looked at from any angle it was anything but. TJ’s Aboriginality was a key factor in the chase. A white teenager would have a completely different life experience.
Once injured, TJ did not receive proper medical treatment. He was pulled roughly off the fence, thrown on the ground, searched and left bleeding heavily. The police turned away the first medical personnel on the scene and, when an ambulance came, TJ was not taken to the nearest hospital. He died the next day.
The Redfern community exploded in protest that was dismissively labelled a “riot.” Teens report police disrespectfully driving through the community, laughing and taunting them that they would be next.
Whitewash unacceptable. The family, with the support of the movement, have campaigned relentlessly to expose the cover-up that followed as police closed ranks and “investigated” themselves. A key demand of the movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody is to end the practice of police investigating police and to establish independent bodies, accountable to the community, with the power to scrutinize cops.
TJ’s mother, Gail Hickey, is tenacious and inspirational. In 2010, on the 6th anniversary of her son’s death, she lodged a complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee, arguing that there is no possibility of achieving justice in any Australian jurisdiction, and that unbiased inspections are indispensable, especially in cases of Indigenous deaths in custody.
The committee is still considering Gail Hickey’s complaint.
Take action. The movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody is turning up the heat as the tenth anniversary of TJ’s death approaches.
The Indigenous Social Justice Association Melbourne (ISJA Melb) is using social media to raise awareness of the broader issue of Aboriginal deaths in custody and increasing the worldwide visibility of the campaign to win justice for TJ.
ISJA Melb has launched a virtual event on Facebook titled ‘We remember TJ Hickey: Ten years but still no justice!’ Supporters are asked to like the event and spread it far and wide. Campaigners everywhere are invited to take a photo of themselves or their friends holding a sign with a message about TJ, or to organise and photograph activities of any size in their own community and upload them to the event page. Just days after launching the event, thousands had received the message, and support has come from as far afield as Canada, India, New Zealand, Indonesia and the U.S.
No matter where you are, all you need is access to a Facebook account, a camera, and a passion for justice, and you can take part.
Let the memory of TJ Hickey, and all who have died in custody, spur you to action to build a world with elected, independent, civilian review boards powerful enough to permanently end police cover-up and abuse. While this is a measure that will not be countenanced under the current economic system, the fight to get there keeps the spotlight on the culprits and helps curb police abuse in the here and now.
Alison Thorne is organiser of the Melbourne FSP branch, with a long history of activism against Australian Aboriginal deaths in custody. Contact her at email@example.com.