16 years after the murder of Kamilaroi teenager Thomas “TJ” Hickey, activists and community members gathered in Redfern on Friday to mourn and call for justice. Despite being met with heavy police presence that outnumbered protestors, the family demanded an independent inquiry into the tragic murder after over a decade of systematic apathy.
On 14 February 2004, 17-year-old TJ Hickey was killed in an unwarranted police pursuit. Hickey was riding his bike through Waterloo when a police car began to pursue him, hitting the bike when he was then catapulted and impaled on a spiked iron fence. The tragedy of his death has left a hole in his community, and Hickey’s family are left wondering when they will get justice for their boy.
The protest and subsequent community barbeque were organised by the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA). Protesters observed one minute of silence, in recognition of the brief time in which Hickey tragically lost his life, before speeches began. Prominent Indigenous activist and Gumbaynggirr Dunghutti Bundjalung woman Elizabeth Jarrett opened up the protest by acknowledging that in previous years, the Hickey family had added an extra minute of silence for every year of injustice. Jarrett, who is known for her work with ISJA around deaths in custody said, “…we do not have 16 minutes of silence to give because in that 16 minutes another black boy could die.”
In her speech, Jarrett drew attention to the 2019 petition that was started to reopen the coronial inquest into Hickey’s death. The petition received 12,000 physical signatures when the NSW Government only asked for 10,000 signatures. Yet, no reopening of the inquest has been announced.
Amongst those remembering Hickey’s life was NSW Greens MLC David Shoebridge, who paid his respects to the Hickey family and the community who have fought behind them for 16 years.
“No mum should have their boy taken like Gail had her boy taken. Gail should be standing next to TJ in his mid-thirties today, looking at TJ’s kids, being the grandma of TJ’s kids,” said Shoebridge.
A representative from Justice Action reminded protestors that many steps could have been taken to ensure that Hickey would have survived despite his injuries, pointing to the police’s negligence. Instead, Hickey died at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital the next day. Justice Action, who are a community-based organisation, targetted the ongoing abuse of authority in the criminal justice system, and made reference to the failings of the coronial inquest that took place in 2004.
The findings from the rushed coronial inquest have remained controversial, with claims of serious omissions that not only suggest police corruption, but inadequacies within the legal system. These findings included the coroner declaring TJ’s death to have been a “freak accident” which cleared all police involved of any wrongdoing. During the rally, ISJA organiser Raul Bassi expressed outrage at the double standards regarding police crimes.
“We cannot accept any more accidents as a cause of death. Someone killed someone! It’s a criminal offense! They have to go to jail. Anyone – police officers, correctional service officers, even health officers – they have to go to jail. It would happen to us if we killed someone.”
Aboriginal deaths through various forms of systematic injustice and police violence are often underreported in mainstream media outlets. In 2018, Wakka Wakka man Patrick Fisher was murdered in the same park, just across from where Hickey was impaled on a metal fence. He died after falling from a 13th floor balcony after being pursued by the police.
As of 2019, the Deaths Inside Project released by the Guardian Australia found that since the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody in 1991, there have been 424 deaths in custody. Currently in the Northern Territory, every child in juvenile detention is Aboriginal.
The Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA Sydney) holds weekly meetings on Wednesdays, 6:30pm at the Redfern Community Centre.