Deaths in Custody in Australia - Thirty years and still no justice


An Irish anarchist living in Sydney reports of recent march against deaths in Custody and its parallels with Ireland. "Many of our readers may be aware of the tragic death of Inner city Dubliner Terence Wheelock in 2005 from injuries received in Garda Custody while in the North there is a long history of state violence and terror in and outside of custody; as there are across the UK.

"Australia is no exception to this given its colonial racist roots in the active dispossession and genocide of its indigenous people and the continuing plight of asylum seekers. Recently a national day of action took place across Australia marking the 30th anniversary of John Pat’s death in custody. Up to 100 people took part in a rally and march in Sydney including anarchists and the James Connolly Society, set up by Irish emigrants drawing links between the continuing colonial legacy in Ireland and Australasia.

"Despite a relatively poor turnout outside Sydney Town Hall, this did not dampen the spirits and anger of people present as speaker after speaker slammed continuing deaths in Custody pointing out that over 200 years on since the Invasion of Australia, Indigenous people still continue to suffer from the very same system that enslaved them from its onset.  

"John Pat died 30 years ago in Roebourne, WA, at the hands of 5 drunken police officers. He had jumped in defend of local Yindjibarnie boy.  Then the drunken police criminals punched and kicked him to death. He was 16 years old. Three years later an all-white jury acquitted the police officers. John’s case remains the tip of the iceberg of a system that rests on institutionalised racism.

"Thirty years on no police, prison of medical officer has ever been found guilty for more than 300 Aboriginal deaths in custody since Royal Commission recommendations of 1991. A recent report by the Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) released in May this year found that overall deaths in custody continue to rise with a spike in the number of indigenous deaths in custody.

"The report highlighted that there have been almost ‘1,400 deaths in police custody recorded since 1980. From 2008 to 2011, 33 of the 159 deaths in prison custody were indigenous prisoners. In Australia around 30,000 people are behind bars, and indigenous inmates account for a quarter of the prison population but only 2 per cent of the general population.’

"The chickens came home to roost in 2004 after the tragic death of 17 year old Thomas ‘T.J’ Hickey in Redfern in Sydney while being pursued by the police provoking a night of rioting and attacks on the police brought to the surface the voice of the voiceless highlighting systemic poverty and state racism.  

"What is clear is that from Ireland to Australia and beyond state violence cuts across all borders and the need to build a mass movement that can provide a voice for the voiceless against the status quo is as urgent as ever.