Deaths in custody take a terrible toll on the family members who have lost a loved one in this way. For some, the grief is immobilising. But for others, there’s a steely determination to expose the truth about what happened and guarantee that no other family needs to go through the horror they experienced. All of these families need the support of the movement. Those who are prepared to speak out and fight back are especially precious because of the inspiration they provide. These beacons of resistance also attract the interest of the racist, capitalist State, keen to see them muzzled.
There’s a long history of the best fighters being persecuted and harassed. Letty Scott, who campaigned until her death to prove that her husband Douglas was murdered inside Darwin’s Berrimah prison in 1985, is a case in point. Her family fled the Northern Territory in the early 90s to escape systemic police harassment.
The Murray family are another fighting Aboriginal family who experienced years of sustained harassment. Arthur and Leila campaigned tenaciously to expose the truth about the suspicious death of their 21-year-old son Eddie in a Wee Waa police lock up in 1981.
The whole Murray family, including daughter Anna, experienced years of persecution. Arthur Murray was arrested and jailed when police attacked mourners after the funeral of 28-year-old Aboriginal man Lloyd Boney in 1987. Boney had been hanged in a Brewarrina police cell. Police also targeted members of the Boney family.
Hickeys harassed. The Redfern Police is infamous in the Aboriginal community for overtly racist policing. Those who are prepared to speak out — such as Gail Hickey, the mother of TJ Hickey — are subject to “special treatment.” TJ Hickey was killed when police chased him on his bike through the streets of Redfern in 2004. NSW Police’s hatred of the Hickey family clearly extends well beyond Redfern.
Last September, Tisha, an Aboriginal woman living in the Western Sydney suburb of Riverstone, held a party to celebrate her 21st birthday. On the pretext that the music at the party was too loud, Riverstone Police raided the family home and arrested Tisha, six of her relatives and a family friend and slapped them with trumped up charges of riot! They face a range of serious charges, including affray and assault of police officers. Why did this happen? Tisha and her family are Hickeys. As a result of the family’s defiant refusal to abandon the quest for justice for their beloved TJ, the Hickeys, from Redfern to Riverstone, have faced police harassment for the last seven years.
Six of those charged in Riverstone appear in the Parramatta Court on 23 March. A solidarity rally will take place outside the Court. Tisha’ s Mum, Patricia Hickey, says, “My family and I have had a lot of harassment from the police since this thing happened to TJ. We’ve had enough. We want it to stop and stop now before another Hickey dies in police custody. Please help us! Enough is enough.”
Solidarity is the key. The Hickey family and all the other fighting deaths in custody families need our solidarity. Armed and dangerous, the police are agents of the State whose job is to protect and serve a racist system — this is why we see flawed investigations, repeated cover-ups and harassment of those who fight back. This side of revolution, we must fight for independent, elected, civilian review boards with real power over the police as a curb to the current barbarism being faced by the Hickeys and all who resist. Build a multi-racial movement to stop Aboriginal deaths in custody — organise in our workplaces and communities and put feet on the streets!
What you can do! Wednesday, 23 March
Sydney: 9:00 am, rally outside the Parramatta Court.
Melbourne: 7:00 pm, public meeting, Speaking Out in Solidarity with the Persecuted Hickey Family, Solidarity Salon, 580 Sydney Road, Brunswick.