Indigenous families fight deaths in custody and police failures

On 21 August hundreds protested in Sydney in an outpouring of support for Indigenous families in NSW who have lost relatives in police custody, or in suspicious circumstances where police failed to investigate.

The rally was organised by the families of 15 victims. Some of the families have been fighting for justice for 30 years, including relatives of Buddy Kelly, one of four boys killed in suspiciously similar circumstances around Tamworth. As Greens MP David Shoebridge explained, “no 16-year-old Aboriginal boy with everything to live for walks out one night and lies on a railway track to be killed by a train. But I know of at least three occasions that the NSW police have signed off on deaths like that and called them suicide and failed to investigate.”

Many of the families gave powerful speeches detailing their cases. Christina, mother of 17-year-old Rayshaun Carr, who died in a car crash near Goondiwindi last year, told the crowd, “my son was in an accident, so they say”. Police failed to investigate properly, but the family have uncovered evidence that their son died as the result of a car chase. The family has succeeded in forcing a coronial inquest into his death, which begins on 28 October.

Another relative, Brittany, added, “we would like to know why [he died] and what happened. We want justice.”

The parents of 22-year-old Tane Chatfield, Colin and Nioka, also addressed the rally, Tane’s trial had finally begun after spending two years in prison awaiting trial, and he expected to be acquitted, when he died in a Tamworth jail cell in September 2017. Corrective Services say he committed suicide, but the family argue he was murdered. Cuts and bruises on his body suggest he was involved in a physical confrontation, and the family is still awaiting a coronial inquest.

Three other Indigenous people died in custody in NSW within two years prior to Chatfield’s death. 

While some of these names are already known to the public—such as 14-year-old TJ Hickey who was murdered by NSW police in Redfern in 2004—many of the other victims have gone undiscussed and unremarked upon outside of the Indigenous community. It’s important that we as socialists stand in solidarity with the Indigenous community against these heinous examples of state violence, as the system that so brutally oppresses their community is the same one that we stand against.

By Nyk Carnsew

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