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National day of action gives birth to a national body

Gerry Georgatos The Stringer 11 July 2013


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Mavis Pat at her son's memorial, 29 years later
(Photo, Gerry Georgatos)

John Pat died at the hands of police officers 30 years ago but he has not been forgotten. His Mother is not alone in her pain – in September, Aboriginal peoples will remind Australians there is a long way to go in reducing deaths in custody with a national remembrance of John Pat.

John Pat died in 1983, in Roebourne, Western Australia but he will be remembered this year around the nation and including in Roebourne. Noongar Tent Embassy will travel to Roebourne for the remembrance and will bus more than one hundred mourners and stop deaths in custody campaigners. They will raise a memorial to John Pat.

John's mother, Mavis Pat has given her blessing. Ms Pat and John's sister Maisie and his brother Glen will be present.

Ms Pat said to The National Indigenous Times, "My son has never left me, I remember him every day. There forever remains a hole in my heart. I had hoped much would change with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but sadly it appears little has changed."

The horrific deaths in custody of Mr Ward (in the back of a prisoner transport van, of Mulrunji (in a Palm Island police cell) and of John Pat (bashed to death in Roebourne by inebriated police officers) expose systemic flaws, neglect, arrogance and racism. These three deaths are not standalone as unjustifiable deaths in custody – there are many more horrific custodial deaths that should have been deemed as unjustifiable or preventable.


John Pat is buried in Roebourne and his Mother visits him regularly. (Photo: Margaret Bertling)

16 year old John Pat's death horrified many Australians and in order to reduce the type of racism that led to his death then Prime Minister Bob Hawke called for a Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

But 30 years since John Pat's death there are more Aboriginal people incarcerated than ever before and the number of deaths in custody have not been reduced.

The death of John Pat generated international attention upon the impoverished remote Western Australian town of Roebourne. Roebourne became to Western Australia what Birmingham was to Alabama. It all started when one local Yindjibarndi boy, Ashley James, was threatened by an inebriated off-duty police officer. Ashley was making a purchase from the local bottle shop. The officer was allegedly heard to say, "We'll get you, you black cunt."

He followed Ashley outside to the front of the Victoria Hotel and knocked him to the ground. A brawl ensued between five off-duty police officers and Yindjibarndi youth. Once again racism had its day. John Pat tried to intervene, coming to the aid of Ashley. Instead, the off-duty police struck him with punches, punching him in the mouth, felling him to the ground. It did not end there.

A witness would testify, "he fell back, and didn't get up. I heard his head hit the road."

His injuries were horrendous, including a torn aorta.

In May 1986, an all-white jury acquitted the four police officers and a police aide of manslaughter.

Noongar Tent Embassy's Marianne Mackay said that the national remembrance will be the biggest deaths in custody event since the Royal Commission Into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody.

"It is just wrong that after 30 years all the statistics have got worse and our peoples are being targeted even more so than then. John Pat's death must not be in vain, and we are going Roebourne to let everyone know the struggle continues. Australia needs to have a real good look at itself, and we will make sure it does by paying our respects to John Pat."

"How many more of our families will have to endure such pain? We are sick to death of how our peoples are treated," said Ms Mackay.

"There is so much that can be done to make a difference, such as the repeal of mandatory sentencing laws, and legislation can be passed to at long last hold corporations and government agencies responsible for their role in a death in custody."

"And the obvious should finally be done, that an independent authority with legislative powers be created to investigate complaints against police and corrective services by detainees and prisoners."

On July 27 the Sydney Indigenous Justice Association will launch the National Stop Deaths in Custody Coalition at The Settlement in Darlington.

The Association's president Ray Jackson said that a forum on deaths in custody will follow the launch on the day. Mr Jackson said that his Association will coordinate the Sydney march and rally in September to remember John Pat. There will also be simultaneous remembrances, marches and rallies in Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.

"It is 30 years, and all of us know there is still no justice," said Mr Jackson.

"We have now begun a national body to coordinate actions to stop deaths in custody."

"The September remembrance will include a renewed call to Governments to do something about the high arrest rates of Aboriginal peoples, which amount to persecution, that we move from incarcerating people where restorative justice practices should instead be sought, that police and prison officers where obvious should be held accountable for deaths in custody, and for the John Pat family that a long overdue apology be provided to them by the police."

Aboriginal Elder, the late Dr Jack Davis AO, BEM once said, "The beginning of the cause of deaths in custody does not occur within the confines of police and prison cells or in the minds of the victims. Initially, it starts in the minds of those who allow it to happen."

Thirty Years But Still No Justice!

National Day of Action to Stop Aboriginal deaths in custody!

Remember John Pat and the hundreds who have died in custody since!

Support these demands made by John Pat’s mother, Mavis Pat:

  • An apology from the WA government for my son’s death in custody
  • An ex-gratia payment as compensation
  • That the police officers involved need to be brought to account and a re-opening of the coronial inquiry into my son’s death
  • All governments take action against racism in the police and the criminal justice system
  • Stop Aboriginal deaths in custody! End the racist persecution of Aboriginal people — Conduct a national audit of the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. Make the findings public and table in Federal, State and Territory Parliaments, and, where appropriate, local government bodies.
  • Build communities, not prisons! End privatisation of custodial services — cancel all contracts with G4S, SERCO and other profiteers from incarceration.
  • Hold the police and custodial authorities to account — end the practice of police investigating police. Establish elected community based police review boards with the full legal and legislative powers to investigate, discipline and charge police and custodial officers found to be involved in a death in custody, negligence or lack of duty of care. Pass legislation to hold corporation and government departments responsible for their role in a death in custody.
  • End the harassment of deaths in custody families — Provide full funding for families, both immediate and extended, who have lost a loved one in custody to meet to allow their collective demands — including for apologies and compensation — to be formulated.
Mother, Mavis Pat, has given her blessing for the National Day of Remembrance for her son and for the marches that will take place across the Nation.

"My son has never left me, I remember him every day. There forever remains a hole in my heart. I had hoped much would change with the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody but sadly it appears little has changed."

Mavis Pat, 28 September 2012

Rallies around Australia
Organised by Indigenous Social Justice Association
Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne, Brisbane and Cairns.

Melbourne & Sydney - Noon, 28 September 2013
Contact your local group for times elswhere

Melbourne: http://www.facebook.com/ISJA.Melbourne
Sydney: https://www.facebook.com/IndigenousSocialJusticeAssociationSydney
Perth: http://www.deathsincustody.org.au/events

Deaths In Custody Watch Committee (WA) Inc
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