The Guardian • Issue #2083

Justice for TJ

Justice for TJ

This year is the 20th anniversary of the death of TJ Hickey, who died during a police pursuit in Redfern, Sydney in 2004. On Saturday 17 February, there will be a speak out in Melbourne to mark the anniversary, and to call for justice for TJ and an end to the systemic, brutal and racist mistreatment of First Nations people. The Guardian spoke with two of the organisers, Cheryl Kaulfuss and Alison Thorne of the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA), Melbourne.

G: Can you tell us a bit about the ISJA?

Alison Thorne (AT): It was formed in 2004 in the lead up to the first anniversary of TJ’s death. Ray Jackson, working with Gail Hickey, TJ’s mother, reached out to get an action going in Melbourne to demand justice for TJ on the anniversary. ISJA campaigns broadly to stop deaths in custody. We’ve participated in Black Lives Matter rallies and Invasion Day events, as well as organising events like this coming speak-out. We’ve campaigned on issues like the campaign to free Lex Wotton when the Palm Island man was a political prisoner.

We’re particularly keen on the issue of major reform of Victoria’s bail laws.

(Editor’s note: The Guardian has reported on Victorian Bail laws in issues #1973 ‘The reality is that the bail system disproportionately targets Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women.’and #2019 ‘Harsh bail laws violate the most fundamental norm of our criminal justice system: that one is innocent until proven guilty of a crime’.)

G: Exactly what are you after with bail laws?

Cheryl Kaulfuss (CK): What we’re after is the presumption of the right to bail – so that the onus is on the authorities to prove that someone should not receive bail, rather than being on the incarcerated person to show why they should get it. That’s one of our key demands.

G: Can you tell us about the other key demands of ISJA?

AT: Sure. The first key demand is for implementation of all the 339 recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody – particularly the ones such as recommendations 87 and 92 which make imprisonment the very last resort.

CK: Our second key demand – as per the Royal Commission – is to stop police investigating police.  That’s what happened in the case of TJ Hickey. There needs to be an independent authority, accountable to the community, with actual powers that can investigate police actions. 

G: To end the impunity.

AT: Right. At the moment, all too often, there’s little more than some training rather than holding those responsible for deaths in custody accountable

CK: And the third key demand is to end racial profiling. It’s not official policy, of course, but we know it’s still happening. Take the example of Tanya Day. She just fell asleep on a train. You can’t tell me that wouldn’t be different if she’d been a well-off white woman.

G: So what’s your idea as to how to stop racial profiling?

AT: First and foremost, accountability! There has to be an end to cops investigating cops. We advocate elected civilian review board which can make police accountable to community. Such bodies need real powers. We also supported the community in Yuedumu (in the Northern Territory) where they called for disarming police, demanding armed cops out of their community.

G: So can you tell us about the speak out on 17 February? What’s that about?

CK: As the flier says, it’s to honour the memory of TJ and to show solidarity with the families who’ve had a member die in custody. It’s to reiterate the demands we’ve made for accountability for police, and for the implementation of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal deaths in custody.

AT: A big part of the event is tribute placards for people who’ve died in custody. A part of the speak out is displaying those placards and sharing the stories about what happened to commemorate the people who’ve died.

G: Remind us – what happened with the plaque in Sydney to commemorate TJ?

CK: A plaque was made and was going to be placed on the wall of the building next to where TJ died. The police and the NSW government refused to allow it there because of the words ‘a police pursuit.’

[This is the wording of the plaque:

On the 14th February, 2004,
T J Hickey, Aged 17,
Was Impaled Upon The Metal Fence Above.
Arising From A Police Pursuit.

The Young Man Died As A Result Of His Wounds
The Next Day
The Redfern local area commander described the wording as “inaccurate or defamatory”.]

They wouldn’t let the plaque go up unless those words were replaced with ‘a tragic accident.’ Of course that change wasn’t acceptable to Gail Hickey. So now the plaque is part of the protest every year.

AT: That building is public housing, so the NSW government has the final say on what goes there, and the police have a lot of sway with them.

CK: The Redfern Community Centre is nearby and the family is calling for them to put the plaque up with the original wording.

G: Back to the speak out, is there anything else there on the agenda?

AT: There will be a range of speakers. We have confirmed that Kieran Stewart-Assheton, President of the Black People’s Union will speak.

GK: Also there will be an open platform at the end, so members of the community can speak up. Come along! Speak up! Stop deaths in custody!

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