Fifty people heard leading Queensland
Aboriginal activist Sam Watson announce at a February 7
public meeting held in the Sydney inner-west suburb of Leichhardt
that Queensland Police Sergeant Chris Hurley was formally
charged on February 5 with manslaughter and assault occasioning
bodily harm for the 2004 death in custody of Palm Island
Aborigine Mulrunji Doomadgee.
“There was no reason for his [Mulrunji's] arrest”,
Watson told the meeting, which had been jointly organised
the Indigenous Social Justice Association (ISJA) and the
Socialist Alliance. “He was a fit and healthy man
prior to the arrest.”
Watson explained that the charges
against Hurley were the result of a sustained public campaign
by Queensland Aborigines and their supporters. Many Indigenous
and non-Indigenous people mobilised in street marches and
rallies. Many thousands signed petitions calling for justice
The Queensland Labor state government
was forced to appoint former NSW Chief Justice Sir Lawrence
Street to review the evidence after Director of Public Prosecutions
Leanne Clare had refused to charge Hurley despite deputy
coroner Christine Clements having found that Hurley was
responsible for Mulrunji’s death.
Street’s finding that there
was sufficient admissible evidence to charge Hurley and
warrant a conviction compelled Queensland attorney-general
Kerry Shine to initiate charges against Hurley.
“Only in two incidents have
police been charged in connection with an Aboriginal death
in custody — in John Pat’s death in 1986 the
police officers were acquitted, and now Mulrunji’s
case in 2007", Watson said.
There have been more than 200 Aboriginal
deaths in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission into Black
Deaths in Custody.
“Deaths in custody is a political
priority, as is defending those charged with offences on
Palm Island after Mulrunji’s death”, Watson
The campaign against deaths in custody
will also target the Crime and Misconduct Commission, Watson
said, as the CMC found police in Aurukun did not do anything
wrong, even after discharging an unlicenced gun into an
Aboriginal community protest.
“We are not going to stand
back anymore”, said Watson.
The meeting was also addressed by
ISJA president Ray Jackson, NSW Socialist Alliance candidate
Raul Bassi and Aunty Bowie Hickey, who spoke about the campaign
for justice for TJ Hickey, a young Aboriginal man killed
when chased by Redfern police onto a spiked fence on February
Watson announced that solidarity
contingents would be coming from interstate to support the
Hickey family and Redfern Aboriginal community on the third
anniversary of Hickey’s murder. A rally and march
will be held on February 14 (beginning at 10.30am) at the
corner of George and Philips streets, Waterloo, to demand
justice for Hickey.