Death in custody: ‘My nephew is a victim of the Intervention’

Paddy Gibson spoke to Patricia Morton-Thomas, the aunt of Aboriginal man Terrance Briscoe, who died in police custody in Alice Springs in January, about her nephew’s death and the Intervention in the NT

” I have been saying my nephew is a victim of the Intervention and I thoroughly believe that. If you’re living n Alice Springs at the moment and you’re Aboriginal this is a police state. The Intervention has allowed every closet racist in the Territory to come out.

The Northern Territory has become like an apartheid system. I remember South African apartheid: Police breaking into people’s homes dragging people away in the middle of the night. This happened in the middle of the day in my house. I had about 15 police officers storm my backyard for one of my nephews. It was terrifying. It took 15 police officers to come and arrest him for a suspected DVO breach.

All of that for them to just let him out without any problem. There’s this double standard  where Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people are treated [differently].

They’re carrying on at the moment that Aboriginal people shouldn’t be drinking in public areas. Where are they going to go? Apart from the Animal Bar and the Gap Motel there’s no other venues in town that will allow Aboriginal people in.

On the fifth of January my niece got a visit from the police and told that my nephew had died in police custody. We buried my nephew but I don’t think it’ll ever be over. The coronial inquest is in June and I think that’s just going to bring more grief to us. If you look at the history in regard to deaths in custody, no one’s ever been held to account for any of those deaths.

Imprisonment rates have increased under the NT Intervention

My family’s been through hell. My aunt who raised my nephew can’t cope with it. If any of my nieces or nephews say they’re going out on the town I’m terrified for them. I’ll sit up the entire night until I know they’re safe at home.

It’s even harder not knowing the truth of what happened that night. First we’re told he died of a heart attack, then we’re told that they suspect he died from asphyxiation, now they’ve come back and said he died of alcohol poisoning. Which one is it?

We’ve had allegations from people that were across the cell from him that it sounded like he was coughing up blood and they kept pressing the buzzer and calling to the police [to] come and check him. Eventually the police turned the buzzer off and ignored them.

I’m not out for revenge but if a police officer is responsible in some way, even if that responsibility is neglecting to take care of him, they need to be held accountable.”

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