Solidarise With Militant Aboriginal Youth Against Racist Cop Terror!

Defend Redfern Aborigines--Mobilise Union Power!

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 186, Autumn 2004.

We reprint below a Spartacist League leaflet distributed at the march to commemorate the death of Aboriginal youth Thomas “TJ” Hickey on 24 February. Some 300 people, including Aborigines, anti-racist youth and supporters of leftist organisations came together to oppose police attacks on Aborigines in Redfern. Spartacist supporters faxed this leaflet to a number of unions the day before the march and distributed it to Aborigines and to workers at some industrial sites in Sydney. We received a warm response from many people thanking us for our forthright defence of the Aboriginal people. The march was organised by the community and partly led by Aboriginal activists Lyall Munro and Kevin Smith. But the strategy the demonstration leadership put forward was dead-end demands on the police and calls for a Royal Commission into the death of Thomas Hickey. It was supporters of the Spartacist League and Spartacus Youth Clubs who uniquely argued for an independent proletarian-centred strategy. We carried signs calling to “Drop the Charges! Hands Off Redfern Militants!” and “Honour Thomas Hickey By Mobilising Labour & Minority Defence of Aboriginal People!”

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SYDNEY, 22 February—The long-felt anger of the Redfern Aboriginal community at their brutal racist oppression erupted on the evening of Sunday 15 February, as Aboriginal youth fought a nine-hour pitched battle with marauding cops. This explosion, which made headlines around the world, was sparked by the death that morning of popular 17-year-old Aboriginal youth, Thomas “TJ” Hickey. The previous day, while fleeing from police, Thomas was impaled on a steel fence, reportedly catapulted from his bicycle. Residents living in the Redfern Aboriginal community known as The Block, told a public meeting that Thomas’ bike was struck by a police car. Witnesses described how, contrary to normal medical practice in such cases, police simply wrenched Thomas from the fence causing him to bleed badly. With obscene callousness, they then proceeded to search him, reportedly pinning him to the ground with their boots. It was up to a witness to call for an ambulance.

Thomas, like all Aboriginal youth, had cause to be fearful of the racist cops. Indeed he had been beaten by a group of police only last December in what the cops described as a case of “mistaken identity.” Speaking of the police, Thomas’ distraught mother, Gail, declared: “They’re nasty. ...they manhandle our kids, they treat them like dogs.... They’ve got to stop chasing our kids and hurting our kids” (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February).

Immediately following Thomas’ death the police waged a series of vile provocations against the Aboriginal community. As early as midday on Sunday locals say patrolling police taunted Aboriginal youth with racist epithets. Mobilising to defend themselves, some in the Aboriginal community began pasting up posters with pictures of police and headlined “Wanted Child Murderers.” The leaflet defiantly stated: “There is a gang of child killers operating in the Redfern area. They can be easily identified as they all dress the same. They are serial killers and will reoffend. Do not approach them as they are armed. Report any you see….”

A woman who has lived in the community for nine years, Victoria Dunbar, described the police provocations that day: “We kept going up [to look] and there were hundreds of them, arms locked, visors down. I’ve never seen so many police. Finally the kids started yelling, ‘C’mon, bring it on’” (Sydney Morning Herald, 17 February). Fed up with years of systematic racist terror from the Carr state Labor government’s cops, up to one hundred and fifty Aboriginal youth, many of them friends of Thomas Hickey, fought back and defended themselves throughout Sunday evening against phalanxes of police “stormtroops.” The Aboriginal youth defended themselves with great tactical nous. And this time the strutting arrogant “bluecoats” got more than they bargained for. Up to 50 cops were injured during the clashes.

However, by 1 a.m. on Monday morning some 250 police assembled in riot gear. They attacked and dispersed the Aboriginal protesters using shields and fire hoses and occupied the top of The Block in Eveleigh Street. A number of people have already been arrested and the police, itching for retaliation, are planning a “sweep” of up to 40 arrests—doubtless via gestapo-style raids for which they are notorious in Redfern. David Webb, a cousin of Thomas Hickey, was one of the many who quickly sent his children away from Sydney. He said: “Everyone is taking their kids out.... The TRG [Tactical Response Group] will kick in doors, I don’t want my kids around it” (Sydney Morning Herald, 18 February). Already police from strike force “Time Piece” have arrested Thomas’ 37-year-old aunt, charging her with riot, affray, violent disorder and throwing a missile. She has been denied bail to attend Thomas’ funeral. Despicably the cops have also targeted Thomas’ 14-year-old girlfriend, April, who was arrested after his memorial service and charged with resisting/hindering police and possession of cannabis. We say: Drop the charges now! Free all those arrested! Defend Redfern Aborigines!

The reactionary bourgeois media, notoriously anti-immigrant racist Carr and his cops, and Liberal opposition leader, John Brogden, are now in overdrive fueling and promoting an outpouring of violence baiting and hate against Aborigines in Redfern. Immediately after the incident Carr announced his “full confidence in the way police tackled this incident” while Brogden, with icy racism, called for The Block to be razed. “I’d bring the bulldozers in,” he said.

Following the clashes, Carr quickly announced on Monday morning no less than three inquiries, while some so-called Aboriginal “community leaders” sought to stifle the just anger of Aboriginal youth. While accusing the police of provocations, Ray Jackson, Indigenous Social Justice Association president and a member of Socialist Alliance, also outrageously condemned the actions of the Aboriginal militants as “stupid.”

In stark contrast, a spokesman for the mourning Hickey family, Lyall Munro, said of Thomas Hickey’s death, “as far as we’re concerned, it’s an Aboriginal death in custody.” Speaking to a gathering of some 150 residents on Monday morning, Munro to his credit solidarised with the actions of the Aboriginal youth: “A stand had to be taken and it was taken by some very brave young people...” (Daily Telegraph, 17 February).

But to prevail against the might of the capitalist state requires a political program to mobilise the social power of the working class. For union/minority/black mobilisations to defend Aboriginal people against racist state terror! The besieged and marginalised Aboriginal people should not be left to fight alone!

Carr’s cops provocatively seek to prevent a proposed march on Redfern police station next Tuesday. To ensure that it goes ahead and to protest the racist state attacks on the Redfern Aboriginal community, we say the social power of the working class should be mobilised in strikes, walkouts and demonstrations. This is no pipe dream. In 1989 when police in Sydney gunned down and killed Aboriginal worker David Gundy, hundreds of building workers downed tools and joined the subsequent protest outside special weapons police headquarters. These workers formed a defensive perimeter around the demo, facing off the assembled cops who would have loved nothing more than to riot against the protesters. Today such union actions would give pause to the vicious NSW Labor government and their police.

It is the same police who assault Aborigines, who also attack anti-racist youth and workers picket lines, like at nearby Morris McMahon factory last year. Last October, thousands of outraged building workers marched through the streets of Sydney following the death of 16-year-old Joel Exner, who died as a result of his boss’s failure to provide him with a safety harness. Both Joel Exner and Thomas Hickey are victims of capitalist rule. We fight to weld the social power of the organised working class to the just anger of oppressed minorities forming one giant hammer to beat back the attacks of their common enemy—the bosses and their repressive state with its cops, courts and prisons.

Far from such a proletarian perspective, Socialist Alliance in an 18 February statement call for the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, which concluded in 1991. This whitewash by the bourgeois state endorsed the police and coroner verdicts of “suicide” and “death by natural causes” in all 99 cases it reviewed. In other words all the killer cops walked! Their verbiage about police violence notwithstanding, Socialist Alliance, in pushing the royal commission findings, give authority to this whitewash of state killings of Aborigines and sow illusions in the main force for racist oppression—the capitalist state. It was the Spartacist League who warned from the first that the royal commission would be a whitewash, just as Bob Carr’s so-called inquiries will be used to protect the cops and target Aborigines today.

While correctly recognising that the royal commission into deaths in custody was a whitewash, some outraged Aborigines are now calling on individual representatives of federal and state governments, including the NSW Police Commissioner, to conduct an “independent” inquiry by Aboriginal consultants into Thomas Hickey’s death. Any inquiry set up by the racist capitalist state can only serve the interests of the ruling class against the interests of the working class and oppressed. The truth of police terror has been repeatedly written in blood for more than two centuries! There is, and can be, no justice from the capitalist state. Indeed promoting illusions in the capitalist state is counterposed to the urgently necessary working class mobilisations in defence of Aboriginal people.

The next day Spartacist salesmen went to Redfern to solidarise with the Aboriginal community. We distributed Australasian Spartacist featuring the back-page article “For a Class-Struggle Fight for Aboriginal Rights!” Key to our perspective is the struggle to break the working class from racist Laborite nationalism and reliance on the capitalist state. Only in coming to the defence of the most oppressed against capitalist rule can the working class liberate themselves. It is urgently necessary to build a Leninist/Trotskyist party, a tribune of all the people, to overthrow this brutal capitalist system through workers revolution. Only then will the desperation and poverty imposed upon the indigenous peoples, and increasingly felt by all, be eliminated once and for all.

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