There’s a hyperlink between the over-policing of Indigenous youngsters and our individuals dying in custody | Tameeka Tighe for IndigenousX

IIf Australia is serious about ending black deaths in custody, we must put an end to over-policing of black communities. The criminalization of our children can fuel life within the police and prison system.

On the same week of the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission on Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, in a segment since it aired on Channel Seven, it was proposed that Queensland Police Liaison officers be present in elementary schools, raising serious concerns US raises community over criminalization of children ages four and up.

We also had New South Wales Police Secretary David Elliott, who told Channel Seven’s Sunrise program that “we have no racial problem in Australia”. As a white man with no real experience of racism in Australia, Elliott’s comments are out of date and offensive.

I spent my elementary school years in Redfern, where my siblings, cousins, and our friends wandered between our home on Pitt Street and their homes on the block. From the Redfern Oval to the basketball courts on Raglan Street or the community center to the settlement, this was our local playground.

If we weren’t accompanied by an adult, we would often get instructions from the police. The over-policing of us as black youth was normalized back then and nothing has changed since then.

I don’t remember my first interaction with the police, but I have vivid memories of TJ Hickey, whose life was taken just around the corner from where I lived. It was 2004, TJ was 17, and I was eight years old.

TJ had innocently ridden his bike when police chase followed and chased him into a parking lot where he later died. Our community was shocked and TJ was immediately criminalized in the media.

As a child I learned that the world can be so dark. The tragic and unjustified death of TJ taught me the fate of black children in my community. The lack of accountability of the police and the system rightly sparked riots in Redfern. Our church demanded justice; 17 years later, not a single officer was charged. We were angry then and still are today.

In 2017, my brother Tane Chatfield died in the Tamworth Correctional Center. Tane was charged with a crime he did not commit and held in custody for two years, but it was our community’s overpolice that led him there. On the night of the alleged crime, Tane was home with his partner and son. He was expected to be released within days of his death.

The overall results of Tane’s investigation showed that the NSW Coroner Court made the same recommendations of the royal commission on Aboriginal deaths who had been in custody 26 years earlier. In this case, we have a system that will let the police fail us in identifying the police. Independent investigations under the direction of the families are required. If the system were just, no stone would be left unturned.

If we have a society that does not recognize the connections between the overpolicing of us as children and our people dying in custody, we have a problem. Our children’s innocence is stolen; The system offers them life in and out of prison.

We are the most imprisoned people on earth, but we were not born to die in custody. Until we dismantle the system there will be no justice and blacks will continue to die. We have to disappoint the police and abolish prisons. Our people have existed peacefully without them for millennia.

Tameeka Tighe is a woman from Gomeroi Dunghutti and Biripi from Moree, NSW. Tameeka is an Aboriginal rights attorney and student living in Awabakal land

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