Tuesday, May 31, 2022
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Protest ‘peaceful, passionate and very moving’

From what I saw I do not believe that this demonstration was any more difficult or abusive than previous anniversaries but because of the ten-year anniversary the organisers had decided to march to Parliament to make their complaints known to the Government. This may have caused some organisational problems but this is common with demonstrations and is no reason to demonise the march and the marchers. They have a right to do this as do any other groups who wish to protest about a perceived injustice.

The TJ Hickey commemoration needs to be seen in the context of the broader campaign by human rights activists against the disproportionate number of black deaths in custody and the fact that little or no action has ever been taken against the police involved in some of these incidents. I realise that this is a difficult issue for our young and dedicated police officers who don’t deserve the abuse they receive during these rallies but they are only words, and police should be trained to handle this sort of agitation. It is important to remember that Aboriginal people have had to cope with these sorts of insults for generations.

In at Town Hall we see rallies, demonstrations and marches every couple of days, and from my experience the TJ Hickey rally was uncomfortable for the police but in no way caused more disturbance than what I see every week. Some demonstrations in the City will often sit in the middle of George Street for up to 15 minutes, holding up traffic through the City and blocking the main street. The number of lanes marches take up is always a moot point but half the roadway is standard.

I would also like to stress from experience that you cannot guarantee what protestors will do or how polite or controversially behaved they will be. Organisers do their best to get people to follow police instructions but it is very difficult to control protestors once a march is underway. I do agree, however, that providing marshals is important to help control a march and believe this is something the organisers can handle better in future. Ray Jackson has reported how difficult it was for him to control the crowd and how unhappy he was with the behaviour of one small group of attendees.

It is also worth noting that Ray Jackson from the Indigenous Social Justice Association was recently awarded a French human rights and peace prize for his work on Aboriginal deaths in custody, and that the Association fights for the rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who are the victims of racism and injustice. The plight of the First Australians is an ongoing injustice and deprivation that still exists in our country and here in our own neighbourhood, and it is important to remember that over 200 years of repression and disadvantage have taken a terrible toll on these our fellow human beings.

On the question of “outside agitators” taking part in the rally, I am dismayed that anyone would think that long-time supporters of the Hickey family and the cause of Aboriginal human rights would not turn up to show solidarity and support for TJ’s commemoration. We do not live in a closed society and people have a right to freedom of movement and association. However, there was one group that were not known supporters and whose presence was not welcomed by the organisers, nor were their signs.

I was particularly disappointed, however, that a traditional smoking ceremony that was part of the demonstration was conflated with threats to burn down police stations. I thought that the Redfern police were meant to undergo cultural awareness training that would have made it obvious that there was no threat intended and that it was meant as a purifying action of great importance to Aboriginal culture. I think to imply that it was anything more than that is a misinterpretation of events.

I fully support the remarks of David Shoebridge MP when he spoke about the problems of police investigating police. This is a view held by a large proportion of society and, although it is a sensitive issue for police, it is a view that will have its day as more and more people acknowledge 
the conflict of interest underlying such investigations. It is a common concern and is held across the political spectrum.

In conclusion, I believe it would be very unwise to try and stop future TJ Hickey commemorations. This would only be a rallying point for the very large human rights movement and could inflame what is currently a small two-hundred-person rally into a major demonstration against the Redfern Area Command. I don’t believe this would be in anyone’s interest and would only inflame existing tensions. I understand that the Redfern police are not used to handling public demonstrations like we are in the City and would encourage them to be tolerant to these marginalised people and their need to grieve over the unexplained death of a 17 year-old boy.

I know that many people will not agree with my comments but I feel that someone has to present the other side of the picture in regards to the rally. I intend no disrespect to the police, who I know have a difficult and challenging job to do, and I hope no offence will be taken as none is intended. This is a difficult issue and I understand the frustration of the police but it is important to also try and understand the frustration and grief that is felt by many other members of the Aboriginal community and their supporters.

 

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