Deaths in Custody — CUSTODIAL KILLING FIELDS

[Aboriginal News]
PRESS RELEASE
April 7, 2010 — from Les Malezer

From February 20-April 4, the custodial systems of Queensland, Western Australia and New South Wales became the Killing Fields. There have been six Deaths in Custody in gaols and police watchouses, as well as the triple shooting of an 18-year-old escapee on transit from Bathurst Gaol to the Mental Health Unit at the Metropolitan Remand and Reception Gaol at the Silverwater Complex.

Two outstanding cases have yet to reach a satisfactory judicial solution: the February 2004 death of TJ Hickey, whose family has sent a submission to the United Nations in an attempt to bring the Redfern Police to justice; and the death of Mulrunji Doomadgee on Palm Island in November 2004 at the hands of then-Sgt Chris Hurley – which led to a community riot, three Coronial Inquests and a Supreme Court trial. Still justice has yet to be found..

Both families live in an everyday hell of despair while searching for justice.

The horror death of Mr Ward in 2008 in WA at the hands of the two transport officers was by far the most callous death in custody for many years: Mr Ward was literally cooked to death in a transit van in temperatures of 56 degrees Celsius. Some 27 months later, charges against the officers are still pending but the WA government has been shamed into paying some interim compensation.

Three deaths in 2009 in the NSW gaol system highlight the lack of any duty of care that was also missing from all the deaths as outlined above.

After the 2009 Mardi gras, Redfern Police arrested 34-year-old Veronica Baxter, a transwoman, and placed her at the MRRC, a male gaol. Within days she was found hung in her one-out cell. Gaol staff stated that she was able to mix with the male inmates and even to visit another pod within the gaol. Little beyond that is known as Commissioner Woodham has declared that no information is to be made public, not even to the family.

The second death took place in the back of a NSW transit van. Mark Holcroft, a non-Aboriginal inmate died of a heart attack during transit from Bathurst Gaol to Mannus Gaol in August 2009. Similar to the Mr Ward case, the transit van drivers considered their comfort to be more important than that of Mark. He has been dead for two hours when the van reached Mannus Gaol. The family was informed five days later.

The third death, in early December 2009, was that of 21-year-old Terry Griffith Jnr, who was found hung in his one-out cell at the John Moroney’s Young Offenders Program at Windsor. Again, nothing is known as the cold hand of Commissioner Woodham has kept everything secret. The family was only informed of their son’s death two days later.

The six deaths in custody in WA and Qld in 2010 continue the travesty of justice and the complete lack of any duty of care. What makes the custodial organisations – the police, the gaols and the health systems – believe that inmates and detainees have no human rights? If we strip these from them, then what hope for rehabilitation?

Our police and our gaolers do not, and must never have, the power of an executioner. That is not their role. Why then do they hold sway over the “Killing Fields”? Why does society believe that the lives taken are not worthy? Is it because they are Aboriginal persons?

They must become more responsible and accept their duty of care: we must stop the Killing Fields.

To that purpose, the INDIGENOUS SOCIAL JUSTICE ASSOCIATION is holding a public meeting outside the Redfern Community Centre at2pm on Saturday April 10, 2010. Come hear the families, activists and communities call for justice and end the Killing Fields.

Ray Jackson at 9318 0947 or Raul Bassi at 0403 037 376

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