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Fifty police injured in Redfern riot

Extract from Australian Broadcasting Corporation - ABC Online, on 16 February 2004


Calm has returned to the inner Sydney streets of Redfern after a night of rioting during which more than 50 police were injured.

Four people were taken into custody after anger erupted at the death of 17-year-old Aborigine Thomas Hickey, who was impaled through the neck on a fence on Saturday morning.

Police used high-powered water hoses to break up a big crowd of people who had pelted police with rocks, bricks and bottles, and set fires during the lengthy riot.

The Redfern railway station was set on fire during the riot but has re-opened this morning.

Police commander Bob Waites says police cannot remember a riot "of this size". Eight of the injured police officers are receiving treatment in hospital.

Mr Waites says the riot began after the death of Mr Hickey, who was impaled on a fence in the area on Saturday.

"The misinformation was that they were under the belief that the police were actually involved in a pursuit where an Aboriginal youth was killed and that wasn't true," he said.

He says officers who were on patrol drove past the boy, who was riding his bicycle in the opposite direction.

"They continued on their patrol," he said. "They weren't aware that after he'd passed them, he accelerated on his pushbike and gone around a corner and lost control of it.

"It wasn't till they came around the block again and people flagged them down and told them what happened [that they knew], so the suggestion that police have in some way been the cause of the death is fairly questionable."


The teenager's mother, Gail Hickey, yesterday said police caused her son's death.

"I don't believe the police, I don't care what they say, I don't believe them," she said. "They did chase him at that time.

"I got a witness to all that. He seen everything that happened. He told me he seen my son riding the bike real fast, next minute he seen cop cars coming, chasing my son to the building there, where it happened."

Local resident Donna says people are grieving.

"It all started over the coppers chasing a young boy," she said.

"It happened yesterday afternoon or last night and it's just that everybody has gone off because they believe the coppers are involved in doing away with the young fellow."

Donna says people are angry because they believe police are responsible for the teenager's death.

"He was murdered," she said. "We've been down to look at the spot and everything and there's no sign, they cleaned it up that quick."

"Running scared"

Redfern Aboriginal elder Lyall Munro says police harass local young people on a daily basis and have them running scared.

"The community here is very much aware of what happened," Mr Munro said.

"This type of thing is going to happen and our young people are going to die in this way whilst ever the police are allowed to get away with it."

Mr Munro says relations with police are at an all-time low.

"Community programs that we had going here ... all fell through because Aboriginal people saw what the street police done immediately after the meetings," Mr Munro said.

'Throwing rocks'

A witness to the riot, Robert, found himself in the middle of the riot.

"They started throwing rocks," he said. "They threw a big rock at my back, [it is] still sore and then I just walked towards the police.

"Then the police grabbed me and then they punched me a couple of times, then dragged me along the ground, two of them.

"I don't think they knew. I'm going to give them the benefit of the doubt and say they didn't know. They probably thought I was one of them [the rioters]."

Another witness, Doug, says he saw rioters throwing things at police.

"There was smoke billowing into the sky," he said. "I don't know what else they've had alight but the cops were ducking and weaving because there were projectiles coming out of the block, just rocks and things like that."

In other developments:

The New South Wales Opposition's police spokesman, Peter Debnam, says the Redfern riot is a result of years of neglect.


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