Free the Redfern Militants! Drop the Charges Now!

Down With NSW ALP Government Persecution of Aborigines in Redfern!

Reprinted from Australasian Spartacist No. 188, Spring 2004.

The brave young Aboriginal militants who defended their community against police “stormtroops” on 15 February continue to face prosecution. Many have been denied bail and left to languish in the dark and terrifying pits of the NSW state prison system, where they daily confront the possibility of deadly racist police and screw violence. Indeed in the last two decades hundreds of Aboriginal deaths in prisons across Australia are testimony to the fact that a prison sentence for Aborigines is often a death sentence. And it is not just in the prison hellholes and lockups that young Aborigines are killed but also on the streets.

Predictably, the findings of the inquest into the death of the Aboriginal youth that sparked the February struggle were a total whitewash. The Coroner exonerated the police of any responsibility for causing the death. In an example of the Orwellian claptrap of the capitalist injustice system, the Coroner said the cops followed the young Aboriginal man, but they didn’t pursue him! That the young man died “during police operations” but the cops had nothing to do with his death! While the cops, he said, “were not completely candid,” the Coroner directed people to understand the “traumatic effect” on the police and even commended one of the officers for his “leadership and effort” when finding the young man impaled on the fence. This despite the fact that reportedly the young man was wrenched from the fence, pinned down and searched, and it was even up to witnesses to call an ambulance! Aboriginal people have also stated that the young man’s bicycle was actually struck by a police vehicle and have queried what happened to the bike once it was taken into police possession.

Capitalist State Spearheads Racist Reaction

This “verdict” was a black-and-white example of the stone-cold racism that confronts Aboriginal people at every level of this vicious capitalist society. Was it any wonder that the dead Aboriginal youth’s family and friends were inconsolably distraught and angry after the findings? The scream of “No justice!” from an enraged Aboriginal woman was the true summation of this kangaroo court.

Later, Aborigines told a Spartacist reporter that this finding shows that the cops can do as they please, another said that at least three youth had seen the police chase the young man. Others spoke of sinister intimidation of witnesses who implicated police, including the destruction of a witness’s car. Meanwhile the police immediately increased numbers on The Block in Redfern to crack down on eruptions of anger against the finding. As Scotty Prince, an Aboriginal man, said at The Block later that day, “We are trying to prove to the world that we are not just disadvantaged [but that] they are still killing us. It is legalised terrorism. It is on a larger scale in the bush. It is happening to a lot of kids all around the country. We know that the police are guilty” (Australian, 18 August).

The backdrop to the Coroner’s verdict was the 2 August interim report of the Standing Committee on Social Issues, a parliamentary committee set up by the NSW state Labor government soon after the February events. Chaired by Labor “left” Jan Burnswoods, this report backed Police Minister John Watkins’ 16 July support to a massive bolstering of police strength in Redfern, itself a response to “Strike Force Coburn” a police “inquiry” into the events in February.

Having earlier announced a $6 million conversion of the TNT tower overlooking The Block into a seven-storey police station, Watkins, flanked by Police Commissioner Ken Moroney, declared that Redfern would get 56 new officers, and the creation of an “Operational Support Group,” a full-time riot squad of 46 officers. This force is to be used across NSW and represents a danger to all those who would resist government attacks, including striking workers. Ominously the pumped-up police in Redfern are now looking to more “forceful police action,” including the possible use of rubber bullets, long-range capsicum spray, gas grenades and armoured rescue vehicles similar to those used by British troops in Northern Ireland. As we stated in our 22 February article, “Defend Redfern Aborigines—Mobilise Union Power!” (Australasian Spartacist No. 186, Autumn 2004), “Bob Carr’s so-called inquiries will be used to protect the cops and target Aborigines today.”

In the context of capitalist decay—the erosion of infrastructure and attacks on working conditions, and increased poverty and desperation—such racist state contempt for Aboriginal people spawns and emboldens rightist and fascist attacks on the streets. The Aboriginal tent embassy in Canberra has been firebombed no less than three times in the last fifteen months. In June last year one such vicious act of arson gutted the shipping container office resulting in the largely irreplaceable loss of 31 years of photos and documents of Aboriginal activism. This is yet another deadly example of denying Aborigines their history of resistance to racist repression and dispossession.

Later in July 2003 more than 40 police were unleashed to carry out an early morning raid on the embassy to supposedly remove the burnt-out shipping container for “safety reasons.” While they were at it, the cops assaulted and arrested embassy activist Darren Bloomfield. It is little wonder that fascists, such as the recently surfaced Newcastle-based Australia First Party and Patriotic Youth League, are increasingly active on campus targeting overseas students with intimidation and violence. This scum must be stopped from organising through mass campus worker/student mobilisations.

Workers, Immigrants, Aborigines: Same Enemy, Same Fight

Fighting alongside and in defence of oppressed minorities it is the working class that has the potential social power and common interest to push back the attacks of the bosses and their repressive state apparatus—the cops, courts, prisons and army—which exists to defend the tiny minority of profit-gouging capitalist rulers against the exploited and oppressed majority.

The recent imprisonment, at the behest of the Victorian ALP government, of former manufacturing union leader Craig Johnston for militant actions in defence of striking workers, throws a spotlight once again over just which class the state serves. Many unionists know that it is the same cops who terrorise Aboriginal people and immigrants, who target striking workers’ picket lines. Indeed it is the same capitalist courts that railroaded Johnston that are now railroading the Aboriginal militants, and it is the same capitalist prison system that now incarcerates both the Aboriginal militants and Johnston. We say: Free Craig Johnston! Drop the charges now!

Ever since the eruption of anger against racist cop terror on 15 February the Aboriginal people of the inner Sydney suburb of Redfern have faced unrelenting state persecution and a sinister build-up in police strength. It is desperately necessary and in the interests of all workers—from construction to manufacturing, from rail and health to striking NSW cleaners—to take up the defence of Redfern Aborigines, beginning with the Redfern militants currently in the cross-hairs of the state. We need a class-struggle leadership of the unions built in political opposition to the current Laborite union misleaders who are hand in glove with the likes of the anti-working-class Bracks and Carr state Labor governments. Such a leadership would be linked to a Leninist party, committed to nothing less than the overthrow of the whole racist capitalist system through victorious workers revolution.

Reprinted below is a 13 August protest statement faxed to the NSW Attorney-General, Robert Debus, by the Partisan Defence Committee, a class-struggle defence organisation in solidarity with the Spartacist League. This statement has also been sent to unions, left, Aboriginal, anti-racist and immigrant groups soliciting further protest statements and seeking to build for union/minority actions in defence of Aboriginal opponents of racist cop terror. An injury to one is an injury to all! Free the Redfern militants! Drop the charges now!

* * *

On the evening of 15 February, the Aboriginal community in Redfern erupted in anger following the death early that morning of 17-year-old Kamilaroi Murri youth Thomas “TJ” Hickey who had been impaled on a steel fence after being chased by police the previous day. The upheaval on 15 February was preceded by a series of provocations by the police, who first cruised through the area taunting Aboriginal youth with racist epithets following TJ’s death, and then with their riot shields readied assembled in large numbers blocking off streets around The Block. Aboriginal youth and their supporters responded with a courageous nine-hour stand to defend their community against the cops. Now the state Labor government’s police have arrested more than 35 people over the 15 February events. Those hunted down, many of whom are children, face multiple charges, including “riot” and “affray.” Many of those arrested have already been incarcerated for many months even though court proceedings are still at a preliminary stage. Those who continue to languish in jail include the dead youth’s uncle, Michael Hickey. We demand the dropping of all charges against the 15 February defendants and the immediate release of those militants held in custody!

The 15 February upheaval was a result of years of unremitting terror against the Aboriginal community in Redfern’s Block that has been waged by the current state Labor government as well as earlier NSW Liberal and Labor governments alike. Again, on 30 July, 250 police rampaged through The Block after having assembled at Sydney University. Residents were enraged as police manhandled even the young and elderly. We strongly condemn this assault, the pretext for which was a crack down on drugs out of “concern” for children living in The Block. The notion that the capitalist state’s armed bodies have concern for young Aborigines is both sickening and utter hypocrisy. It has been the capitalist state’s officials who have overseen the theft of Aboriginal children from their families over generations, and it is the same capitalist state police who chased TJ to his death, who have caused the death of innumerable black youth from John Pat to Daniel Yock. In reality the “war on drugs” is a convenient pretext for racist attacks against Aboriginal, Asian, Islander and Arab youth.

The state government’s campaign against the residents of The Block and the associated media frenzy have helped fuel a climate of vicious anti-Aboriginal racism. Seizing on an outpouring of ignorant prejudice, the Sydney City Council outrageously dismantled the Aboriginal tent embassy in Victoria Park last week.

However the 15 February struggle met with sympathy from many opponents of oppression both here and internationally. The Carr Labor government is now notorious for its brutal repression of young Aboriginal, anti-racist and anti-Iraq War protesters and for its attacks on workers, including those who struggle to maintain the decrepit NSW rail and hospital systems. As such there are many good reasons for the organised workers movement and left and minority youth to rally in opposition to the state’s persecution of the Redfern militants. Once again we demand, Free the Redfern militants! Drop the charges now!

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