will a coalition of deaths in custody equate to a coalition of activists to fight for them?
that question has been much on my mind since last monday. about noon on that day i attended a rally outside of the nsw parliament house to commemorate and protest a death in custody event. the rally only involved about a dozen people, including myself, and it raised little interest from lunch time crowds and even less from the nsw government or opposition.
now whilst this level of non-interest is not unusual, except for one or two motorists and a classroom size of muslim students, it clearly shows the mind-set of mainstream australians. you see, ali rahimi had come to this country seeking asylum from his birth place of iran. ali had been a political activist, as are many of us, and he lost family to the harsh fundamentalist regime of the ayatollahs who currently rule iran with an iron fist. ali made the dangerous trip to australia to not only save his own life but to save the lives of his wife and two children who remained in iran. ultimately he hoped to bring them here also.
for the last 23 months of his life he was detained at the infamous villawood detention camp awaiting the decision of an uncaring immigration department whose only interest was not in proper and rightful resettlement here but only having him returned to iran where there was every chance that he would be killed as was his cousin . apparently what would happen to him and the his family there was no longer the business of the australian governments and the people whom they allegedly represent.
they most certainly do not represent or speak for me. i say welcome to the asylum seekers. they are not coming here to recreate the invasion history of the original boat people from 224 years ago.
ali, we were told, had died of a heart attack and whilst this indeed may be the case, we must be alert to the very real possibility as to what level of care he had been given by the medical representatives and the private-for-profit guards that work at villawood on behalf of serco. ali’s psychiatrists had recommended his release 12 months earlier but of course the bureaucrats at the dept. of immigration knew better so he remained locked up.
why did ali and so many others take the hard and perilous trip to come to australia? in ali’s case he believed that australia was the fair dinkum country of the fair go and australia had a good international reputation on human rights and asylum seeker protection. and once upon a time we did but that ethic was obliterated by xenophobia and a fear of ‘the other’ and we did not live happily ever after. for some we now live in shame, unable to accept the current racist system.
but it is also a system that allows people to die and to be driven mad at the hands of those placed in charge by the authorities. the greedy and the seedy. a handful of gold vs.. the washing of the hands.
i was upset and amazed at the level of suffering our asylum seekers must go through for making the same mistake that ali did. i use the term ‘our asylum seekers’ purposely because that is how i, and too few others, view them. they have managed to reach australian waters and they have committed no crime, neither australian nor international, in coming here. instead of being welcomed and protected from being sent back to a mostly uncertain but probably homicidal future our outstretched hand became a fist and we denied them the humanity we had given to the vietnamese boat people back in the 70’s. perhaps ali had based his understanding on this event.
in the previous 12 months it is recorded that 6 asylum seekers have died in the detention camps run by multinationals that incorporate the prison-for-profit bottom line. it is stated that in the previous 12 months some 312 asylum seekers have self-harmed. that is a phenomenal figure of frustration and angst towards an uncaring government system that only wants them to be gone. anywhere but australia! the horror that allows for the two previous numbers is the great numbers of asylum seekers who, over the previous 12 months, have suffered and been diagnosed with a mental illness or psychosis. 451 human beings tortured by a system that is blind to their needs. their detention camps are responsible for so many lives and human rights abuses since the hawke government began the process back in the 80’s. all australians must carry the responsibility and blame for what the governments have done in your name. as far as i am concerned every federal immigration minister from gerry hand to chris bowen is guilty of human rights breaches and ignoring the definitive un declarations. the worst minister, in my opinion, is phillip ruddock whose own daughter left home because of his draconian and murderous handling of the immigration portfolio under the howard government.
like the iranian asylum seeker activists who were present at the rally i also strongly condemn the australian government for its anti-immigration policies and join them in demanding a complete and fully open investigation into the circumstances of ali rahimi’s death, including all other asylum seeker deaths, whilst being held in the government-approved detention camps.
we offer our sincerest sympathies to his family, his community and his friends as we respectfully honour his life.
for those who live in sydney and can get to nth sydney at 4.30 on friday 9/3 there is to be a rally outside the offices of serco against their treatment, with government blessings. of our asylum seekers. 90 arthur street, north sydney.
on the monday evening i had the opportunity of watching 4 corners on the nsw police shooting of adam salter and the subsequent attempt at a cover-up by the police involved and their peers. this police death in custody happened on 18th november, 2009 when adam’s father rang triple 0 ambulance to report that his son was having a psychotic episode and was stabbing himself with a kitchen knife. as is customary at these times the police were also notified to attend. within minutes adam had been shot in the back by one of the attendant police officers. adam was dead. why?
the police instantly went into whitewash mode instructing the police present on what to do and say during the subsequent police investigation. this was clearly shown in the 4 corners report. they did not however stop the ambulance officers who were there to abrogate the police version when they gave their statements. adam was accused of attacking a police officer but the evidence showed that this officer was not holding adam as the police suggested. adam instead was concentrating on using the knife on his own body by thrusting it into his neck.
adam’s father had been ordered to isolate himself from his son and this of course raises the important question of why loved ones who are in no physical danger are sent away from the person of medical and police interest. to exacerbate the level of trauma and fear of a person in the grip of a psychotic event by isolating him to the screamed orders of the police shows a clear lack of training and concern for the safety of the victim.
if the police have any training whatsoever in how to handle these sorts of situations then it must be minimal or is of no concern to the recruits in the police academy. the number of victims of police shootings around australia is high and back in the early 90’s the watch committee recommended to the nsw police minister and nsw commissioner that dedicated units must be formed to deal with these matters rather than untrained cops. they would need to be of a high calibre and have a full understanding of how to defuse such situations to the benefit of all. there are special negotiators used in siege events, why not when dealing with traumatised people. yes, it would cost dollars but the government must put lives before money.
as usual the police controlled every aspect of their so-called investigation and cover-up. they informed the coroner how the person died, the p24. they flooded the mainstream press and radio verbal vomit (jones, hadley,etc.) with their version of the events and that clearly placed the police action as one of self defence and for most of the hoi poloi that remained the case until the coroner blew their fabrication apart. even commissioner scipione came out in support of his officers as they tend to do. whether he knew the truth of the matter is unknown. the police involved were relieved from duty so they could be counselled but no counselling was offered or given to the family. the verbal vomit called for greater police powers as did some of the mainstream press.
when the case finally reached the coroner the whole plethora of lies was brought crashing down but not before blatant lies were told by the police on oath and the police assisting the coroner.
what was finally shown was that the police case was a complete fabrication and stressed, absolutely, the important need to stop police investigating police as it is just not compatible with justice. we are told by ms. tamar hopkins, national police accountability network, that in northern ireland the police ombudsman, a civilian post, is quite capable of doing dic inquiries. other examples also exist. this demolishes the police argument that only they can do such investigations. some years ago an inspector-general of gaols was appointed by the carr government with great powers to clean up the gaol systems, that position was rescinded by the nsw government and with the full blessing of the current commissioner. what we need is what northern ireland has to stop the ongoing crimes of the nsw police being perpetrated against their victims and their families.
the corruption of the police is now to be investigated by the police integrity commission. their findings will decide for me whether or not to approach them with another seriously compromised investigation into another police death in custody. police investigations of police killings are always to be questioned. even with the police death of terrance daniel briscoe in a alice springs, nt, police cell must be forensically analysed by the legal team representing the family.
perhaps the most poignant part of the 4 corners report was the wish of adrian salter, adam’s father. the family do not want charges laid against sgt bissett for the shooting of their son. all they want is an apology from the police. as adrian says, what is wrong with the police saying, “we are sorry. we killed your son. what is hard about that.”
some 3 years on adrian is still waiting. if i could i would tell him that the police never apologise, ever. it is not within their collective morals to do so. even when they are ordered to apologise they refuse to do so. this arrogance, this mutated power ethic must be changed and that brings me to the final matter.
when the 40th anniversary of the tent embassy was on there was a gathering of activists who discussed the need for a federal body, what i call the national deaths in custody coalition, to monitor and protest deaths in custody for all deaths, both aboriginal and torres strait islander and other australians, in gaols, police or juvenile justice. to this group i believe that the deaths of asylum seekers must also be included.
any death in custody relates at least to a questionable death regardless of the ethnic roots of the victims. we must not, in my opinion, follow the racist steps of the governments in their choosing of a particular class of people to either support or to leave to the whims of fate.
we have a coalition of deaths in custody. to at least attempt to answer that crime we need a coalition to work towards redressing the problems that few others want to get involved in. we too must have our coalition.
it is my very firm view that change is in the air. the showing of the tall man and now the 4 corners report, closing the ranks, shows clearly and correctly how the police corrupt their own investigations and the call for independent investigations is becoming far wider. it is in that atmosphere that we must make sure that we become a strong player, a dominant voice and presence as to where these changes will head. the power finally must be taken from the police forces of this country to allow them to be more responsible to the public that pays their wages. we must also argue for civilian police boards that monitor their daily practices and non-dic investigations. police practice corruption because we allow them to.
time for change. time for a coalition.
indigenous social justice association
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we live and work on the stolen lands of the gadigal people.
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