BY CHRISTOPHER HARRIS
It was a win for justice, the organisers of the TJ Hickey March said of a last minute agreement on Friday which stopped the attempt by NSW Police to cut the march short for the second year in a row.
About 250 protestors marched from TJ Hickey Park in Waterloo to Sydney Town Hall on Sunday Feburary 14, to commemorate his death after being chased by police.
Last year, the procession of the march was stopped at the Aboriginal Tent embassy in Redfern at the request of the police.
The Police tried to stop the march short again this year.
But organiser Raul Bassi told City Hub that everyone in Redfern and Waterloo knew what happened to TJ, and that the message needed to be spread further.
“This year we said we are not going to take it, and we went to court,” he told City Hub.
He said that there was a lot from TJ’s case which needed to be addressed.
“We demand compensation and an apology for the TJ Hickey Family.”
“We don’t want to reopen the inquiry, we want a new inquiry.”
Before the march went ahead, the organisers took to the Supreme Court to challenge the police’s attempt to cut the march short.
The police objected to the march on the basis that previous marches had been violent, citing one on Australia Day. Mr Canning said that these protestors were from another group and had subsequently been isolated and not included in this year’s one.
“Event organisers and NSW Police agreed on a number of conditions how this year’s rally would be conducted. These conditions were agreed without going to hearing. The adherence to these conditions by the protestors was paramount to
the successful conduct of the procession.”
Ken Canning from Indigenous Social Justice Association said that he and other organisers stayed up all night to produce a case at the last minute, due to the late notice by the police.
He said he believed when their barrister presented an outline of their case to opposing council, the police commissioner rung around for approval to drop their opposition to the rally.
In a statement to City Hub, the police said that they opposed the rally on the basis of public safety.
“From time to time, police will lodge objections to aspects of an event, and in this case, it related to the proposed route of the rally, which may have impacted on public safety.”
“The NSW Police Force recognises and supports the rights of individuals and groups to exercise their rights of free speech and peaceful assembly in a safe environment,” the statement said.
“The first priority for NSW Police is public safety.”
Ken Canning said he believed the forms and agreements they made them sign following the agreement was the same as any normal rally. “It was face saving on the police’s behalf,” Mr Canning said.
Greens MPs David Shoebridge and Jenny Leong expressed serious concern at the attempts by police to shut down the protest.
“TJ Hickey died tragically as a result of a police chase in Redfern and every year since his death this action has taken place in Redfern. This latest attempt by the police to use the courts to shut this important annual event down is unacceptable,” Mr Shoebridge said.
Jenny Leong said that the right for peaceful assembly was a part of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. “This right needs to be upheld,” she said. “The local community and social justice activists have the right to gather peacefully to commemorate TJ Hickey’s death and to commit to keep up the fight for justice.”
Ken Canning told City Hub that only a small handful of recommendations from the Royal Commission into deaths in custody had been implemented.
He said one recommendation, a service which notified a legal organisation when an indigenous person was taken into custody was one of the best things to come out the commission.
“In the decade since it was implemented, there was no deaths in custody.”
He said the Baird Government had since cut funding to the program. The program secured federal funding from the Minister for Indigenous Affairs for the next three years.
“When you’ve got this whole situation of no deaths in custody being recorded for ten years, and then it is axed, of course we’re angry. Deaths in custody is such a raw issue.”
“Last year, we overtook African Americans on two abysmal statistics. We now have the most incarcerated black people per capita, and the most deaths in custody. We also overtook the final eight years of the apartheid regime for the percentage of black people in prison”.
He said that the police should stop arresting indigenous people for “trivial” things.
“In the last week there has been two more deaths in custody. We are losing count. It has gotten that bad we have state bodies forming a national body to keep an eye on national rates of deaths in custody.”
A full statement from NSW Police can be found on the City Hub website.