International Justice for TJ Day – 14 February 2010

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At Fitzroy Town Hall

As the 6th anniversary of her son’s death approached, Gail Hickey sent this message to supporters, to ‘Deaths in Custody activists and justice campaigners’ calling for 14 February 2010 to be observed as International Justice for TJ Day:

Dear campaigners for justice

The 14th of February 2010 will be the 6th anniversary of the day my beloved son, Thomas “TJ” Hickey was impaled on a fence while being chased by Redfern Police.

And while the family grieves, the so-called Australian justice system has failed us miserably.

There is no doubt in my mind, and amongst many others in the Redfern Indigenous community and beyond, that the police killed TJ.

However, an internal police investigation was inherently incapable of finding the truth. It provided no incentive for vulnerable and threatened witnesses to come forward. The riot in response to my son’s death is a clear indication of the despair and lack of trust felt by our people of the State’s capacity to provide justice to us.

There was a similar response amongst the Palm Island community after the death in custody of Mulrunji.

There has still been no proper investigation independent of the police and government and I no longer believe that we can get to the truth within the Australian jurisdiction.

I am therefore seeking international remedies.

Under International Law, the State must ensure that deaths where police involvement is suspected are investigated by an independent civilian agency. Australia is currently in breach of its international obligations to ensure police are independently investigated.

In April 2009 the UN’s Human Rights Committee expressed concern about the excessive use of force by police against young people, Aboriginal Australians, people with disabilities and ethnic minorities. It also criticised the fact that investigations of police misconduct are carried out by the police themselves.

On 14 February 2010 I will lodge a complaint with this committee seeking findings that Australia is in breach of its human rights obligations in failing to independently investigate TJ Hickey’s death.

The failure to independently investigate deaths in custody is just one of Australia’s many human rights failings. The shameful intervention into North Territory Aboriginal communities and the back to the mission days welfare quarantining measures are another.

I therefore fully support the National Day of Action on 13 February against the NT Intervention.

I am calling for 14 February 2010 to be observed as International Justice for TJ Day.

I appeal for Deaths in Custody activists and justice campaigners to organise actions in their local areas on 14 February 2010.

Such actions will:
Remember TJ and honour his life
Insist that the police be held to account
Publicise the lodgement of my complaint with the UN Human Rights Committee
Demand the full implementation of all recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody
Build the on-going struggle to stop all Aboriginal deaths in custody and remember those who have died at the hands of the racist state, particularly in the last 6-years.
Until we have justice, there can be no peace.

Gail Hickey

Answering this call, the Indigenous Social Justice Association – Melbourne (ISJA-Melb) organised a rally at Fitzroy Town Hall attended by over 40 supporters, followed by a march to the local police station. Speakers included Talgium Edwards, a member of the stolen generation ‘with a long history of run-ins with police’ going back to the 50s, who said he was left alone pretty much now, but was determined to go on struggling until Aboriginal people got the respect they are entitled to. On the subject of police, he believed that many start off with good intentions, but were ‘locked out’ if they didn’t conform to the existing culture, and so ended up just like the rest:

Talgium Edwards speaking

Talgium Edwards at Fitzroy Town Hall.

Cheryl Kaulfuss spoke on behalf of ISJA, of which she is a founding member. She described the events leading up to TJ’s death and the present situation in Redfern, where there is no let-up to harassment of Aboriginal people. “Developers want Redfern.”

Cheryl Kaulfuss speaking at Fitzroy Town Hall

Cheryl Kaulfuss speaking at Fitzroy Town Hall

(Later, outside the police station, Debbie Brennan of the Freedom Socialist Party told how on a recent visit to Redfern she visited the site of TJ’s death and found that the police had removed every trace of the event – the fence had been repainted, the memorials had been taken away.)

Vicki Roach speaking at Fitzroy Town Hall

Vicki Roach speaking at Fitzroy Town Hall

Another speaker was Vicki Roach, also a member of the stolen generations, long-term campaigner for prisoner rights, and mother of a son called TJ. She told how she had visited Gail Hickey and followed the path taken by TJ on the day, to the place ‘where all his little blood was spilt.’ Describing the situation in Redfern, she also stressed that nothing had changed, with police still chasing kids in their cars, and the number of deaths in custody still rising. She passed on a message from Gail: “Tell them I thank them for their support.”

Frank Guivarra speaking

Frank Guivarra

Frank Guivarra, CEO of the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service (VALS) paid his respects to TJ ‘and all others who have passed away at the hands of the authorities’. The Australian system did not favour justice for Aboriginal families, and as to claims there is no racism in the police force, there were also fairies at the bottom of the garden…

Marching to the police station

The gathering observed a minute’s silence before marching to the Fitzroy Police Station, to a chant of ‘We support out sister Gail, Justice for TJ, we must not fail.’

Sharon Firebrace at the police station

Sharon Firebrace at the police station

Sharon Firebrace of the Black Rights Action Group asked the question ‘What do you do if you can’t get justice’, given that the system has so obviously failed. She also highlighted he role, or rather the failure, of the media in not covering the real issues. [There was a striking absence of mainstream media at this event, and yesterday’s NT intervention protest was hardly better.] There was a denial of Aboriginal history going back to the claims of ‘terra nullius’, and whereas Indian students in Melbourne,the targets of racism, are being stabbed, Aboriginal people have been hanged … There must be a treaty, to establish the fact of the existence and survival of Aboriginal people.

“Until we have justice, there can be no peace.”

Sunday’s rally was MC’d jointly by Alison Thorne of ISJA and Karen Minnicone, and was endorsed by a range of groups and organisations including Alliance
for Aboriginal Rights, Anarchist Black Cross, ANTaR Vic, Black Rights Action Group, Community Radio 3CR, Copwatch – Melbourne, Deaths in Custody Watch
Committee of Western Australia, Federation of Community Legal Centres, Flemington Kensington Community Legal Service, Freedom Socialist Party, 3 KND, Latin American Solidarity Network (LASNET), Lesbian and Gay Solidarity, Melbourne Anti-Intervention Collective, Revolutionary Socialist Party, Radical Women, Radio 4K1G Townsville, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Alternative, Solidarity and Stop the Intervention Collective – Sydney.

February 14 was also the first anniversary of the death of rights campaigner Letty Marie Scott (nee Gibson) Nupanunga, whose husband Douglas was found hanged in a cell in Darwin’s Berrimah jail on July 5, 1985. (See Green Left Weekly #785 4 March 2009)