More than 100 family and friends of Gamilaroi man Michael Peachey rallied in Gunnedah yesterday to demand justice and change.
The crowd chanted “Say his name—Michael Peachey” and “What do we want—justice”.
Michael was killed by NSW police last Thursday night at his father’s house. He never regained consciousness after being hit with OC spray and a taser.
His death brings the total number of Indigenous deaths in custody to at least nine since March.
Family members say Michael’s mental health had been deteriorating in the week before he died. They had reached out to the local hospital, to Aboriginal services, to the mental health ward in Tamworth and to police, but no support had been forthcoming.
On the night he died, police were called again after Michael experienced a breakdown. Rather than care and support, there was a struggle and police responded with lethal force.
Francis Stevens, Michael’s Nan, said: “We asked for help, why didn’t help come?
“No one understands. No one wants to help us. Why? Is it because we’re Black? Is it because we’re poor?”
Victoria Hoyt, Michael’s partner, said: “Where is the mental health support? With this system it seems that people are forced into psych wards against their will but when we request help there is nothing there.”
Marlee Thomas, Michael’s sister-in-law, said: “Police brutality needs to stop. There is no need for the kind of force that killed Michael.
“This is a constant problem we have in Gunnedah, police brutality, especially against Aboriginal people. We have seen huge Black Lives Matter rallies across the country but still they kill our people. The movement needs to grow—we need justice and change.”
Helen Eason, from Nelly’s Healing Centre, said: “I run a family support service in Sydney and I have had to travel up here to Gunnedah to support this family because there is absolutely no support on the ground. It is disgraceful that there is nothing in place for our people.”
Greens MLC David Shoebridge said: “In the end the only service that was provided [for Michael] was the police turning up without training, without mental health resources, that ended in the loss of his life. This was an avoidable tragedy.
“The nearest drug rehabilitation unit is 175km from Gunnedah, at Armidale, and its waiting list is the better part of 12 months’ long. This was a family that was let down when they most needed help.”
Michael’s sister-in-law, Marlee Thomas, was among the family members who addressed at the rally.
“I’ve never seen such strength in a mob before. This is the first rally Gunnedah’s had. I 100 per cent guarantee that it’s not going to be the last.”
Tasered 10 times
Meanwhile a coronial inquest has opened in Perth into the death of 39-year-old Mr Riley, who died shortly after being tasered 10 times into unconsciousness by police during a seven-minute struggle at East Perth Officeworks
Footage from onlookers’ mobile phones shows Mr Riley grunting and yelling as up to eight police officers attempted to subdue him on 12 May 2017.
Mr Riley, a Noongar man from Coodanup, can be seen pinned facedown, yelling “let me go” and “help”. He then loses consciousness and paramedics scramble unsuccessfully to revive him.
His first name has not been published for cultural reasons.
The Australian Institute of Criminology has announced it will now report the number of Indigenous deaths in custody every six months but Greens senator Lidia Thorpe has called for a move to real-time reporting.
“We have had a number of Aboriginal people die in custody this year alone. It’s just not good enough that these deaths won’t be reported in official statistics for up to two years,” Senator Thorpe told The Canberra Times.
Her call was supported by NATSILS, the peak body for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander legal services, which pointed out that: “To this day, there is no definitive list of our people who have died in custody since 1991.”
These deaths are all avoidable tragedies. They drive home once again the need for the government to implement all the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.
They also show why the Black Lives Matter movement has raised the demand to defund the police. People with mental distress need support from trained professionals, not armed thugs in uniform.
By David Glanz