Remembering TJ Hickey amidst government failures in closing the gap

Remembering TJ Hickey amidst government failures in closing the gap
Image: Gail Hickey, mother of TJ Hickey, stands at the site where her son died 10 years ago at Waterloo, Sydney, Friday, Feb. 14, 2014. Dan Himbrechts, AAP Image

by GRACE JOHNSON

 

The twentieth anniversary of the death of TJ Hickey, an Indigenous teenager, is yet another reminder of the hundreds of First Nations people that have died from contact with law enforcement or correction.

It comes as the update on the Closing the Gap report, released by the Federal Government on the sixteenth anniversary of the National Apology to Indigenous People, shows that progress on some target have gone backwards.

On February 14, 2004, TJ Hickey, a Gamilaraay boy, was impaled on a fence while being pursued by NSW Police. He was 17 years old.

Before the fatal incident, the two police paddy wagons were patrolling Redfern and Waterloo, searching for an unidentified offender that had robbed someone outside Redfern Station, when TJ appeared on a pushbike.

Despite having no indication that TJ was the thief, one of the wagons mounted the footpath and chased him down a pedestrian laneway.

TJ was thrown from his bike and impaled upon a fence. He died in hospital the following day, sparking the Redfern Riots.

Twenty years on, his mother, Gail Hickey (pictured), is still fighting for justice.

In the wake of government failures in closing the gap, the twentieth anniversary of TJ’s death serves as a poignant of the disadvantages Indigenous people continue to face.

Lydia Shelly, President of the NSW Council for Civil Liberties, “Sadly, TJ’s death is just one death out of hundreds of First Nations men and women who have died in the context of contact with law enforcement or corrections.”

“We share the pain not only of TJ’s family, but the families of Cleveland Dodd, Jai Wright and the families and communities of the hundreds of other First Nations men and women who are still demanding justice.”

Failures to close the gap 

There have been 559 Indigenous deaths in custody since the Royal Commission, which took place between 1987 and 1991. New South Wales has the highest rates of deaths in custody in the country.

Ms Shelly said, “As we remember TJ today, we also confront the stark reality highlighted in this year’s Closing the Gap report released by the Australian Productivity Commission.”

The Closing the Gap statement, tabled in parliament on Tuesday, showed that only four of the 19 key areas are on track for improvement, with four others actually getting worse.

Indigenous children’s early development, children in out-of-home care, adult imprisonment and suicide prevention are going backwards.

The only areas on track are engaging children in early education, economic participation and youth detention statistics.

Areas like life expectancy, children’s health, education, youth employment, housing and Indigenous people maintaining cultural and economic relationships with land are improving but not enough on track to meet targets.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese said the remaining gaps were “inexcusable”.

“Australia has overcome much, but the gaps persist, including the life expectancy gap that gapes between us like a chasm. That is inexcusable,” he said.

Ms Shelly reiterated the report’s disappointing outcomes and ongoing issues faced by the Indigenous population, saying “This lamentable state of affairs underscores the continued neglect and marginalisation experienced by First Nations people.”

“TJ Hickey’s tragic death serves as a poignant reminder that despite two decades passing, little progress has been made in addressing the systemic injustices faced by First Nations communities,” she continued.

 

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