Back in 2004, when I heard of the death of Thomas "TJ" Hickey, the young Aboriginal man who died after crashing his bike and being impaled on a fence following a police chase through Redfern, I thought it was just an accident, and anyway why was he running if he hadn't done anything wrong?
I'm ashamed of my ignorance when I look back now. But I thought police racism and brutality were things of the past. I was really, really wrong. There was an outstanding warrant for TJ's arrest at the time of his death, and when he saw a police car in the area, he assumed it was seeking him. (Police later admitted they were in fact chasing him). So he fled. I'm not making any statements as to Mr Hickey's innocence or guilt, for either way he had good reason to run; the continuing harassment of Aboriginal people - especially young men - in inner Sydney.
The general public has no idea; I know I didn't. The allegations here, of police behaviour immediately following TJ's death, are truly horrifying. The stories abound; kids in Glebe threatened with arrest for being on the streets at night, even if they were returning home from visiting their grandmother; a group of fifteen year old girls stopped and searched for drugs three times by three separate police patrols during a short walk to a party in Waterloo; children who have their bicycles confiscated until they can go the the police station with proof their bikes weren't stolen. (It's not just the police, either. One couple successfully settled with the Broadway shopping centre for harassment after they were repeatedly questioned, then followed, by security guards when they were unable to produce proof that the pram they were pushing their baby in was not stolen. How many people carry the receipt for their baby's pram months after purchase?!?).
And of course it doesn't end with mere harassment. Punches are thrown, arrests are made without cause, evidence is planted. So no wonder TJ Hickey had something to fear. As his aunt said after his death, "If you are black and you see the cops, you run". We have a culture in the police that says if a person is black, they're likely up to no good, and an uniformed public who thinks that if the police take action, the Aboriginal person must have done something wrong - thanks to a media which is silent on this issue and right wing commentators who seem to think being Aboriginal today is a ticket to easy street.
Meanwhile, six years after his death and still without the answers she needs, TJ's mother Gail Hickey has lodged a Submission of Communication to the UN's Human Rights Committee seeking a fresh inquiry into the death of her son. She shouldn't have to - it's terribly sad that she cannot trust the Australian justice system for the truth. After all, if the police have nothing to hide, why wouldn't they welcome a full judicial inquiry into the death of TJ Hickey, to finally uncover the truth after all these years?