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Home > World

Dead Kid On The Block

"Can't you hear, can't you hear the thunder? You better run, you better take cover"

- Men at Work

17 February 2004


It’s all been kicking off in Sydney. About 40 police officers were injured by rioters protesting about the death of 17-year-old Thomas Hickey, who died after a police chase.

Or who didn't die after a police chase. Depending upon who you believe.

And were the rioters actually protesting about the death of a young boy from their community, or were they just bored and drunk? Again, it depends who you believe. You might want to believe Bob Carr, the New South Wales Premier, who said:

"The advice I have had from both the Premier's department representative at the scene and from the police is that alcohol and, no doubt, the heat of yesterday played a large part in this. They are in no doubt that there was orchestration by elements who've chosen to urge a major incident."

Violent drunks. That's who caused it. Nothing to do with the poverty gap. Nothing to do with the fact that, to quote the Guardian:

Unemployment stands at 33% in the 1,000-odd Aborigine population, and the hepatitis, HIV and respiratory disease rates are far higher than in affluent adjacent suburbs.

Aden Ridgeway, the only Aboriginal member of the national parliament, said:

"There's been simmering tension building up in communities ... and Thomas Hickey's death became the trigger point for this stress and anxiety to be expressed in such an extreme way. This isn't being harnessed by any particular political movement but instead you have young people feeling a sense of hopelessness and despair about life's opportunities."

Hopelessness is caused by a lack of power. By the distance between everyday life and political influence. We can all feel it. We see the destruction of the rainforests, we feel hopeless. We see a war brought about simply to line the pockets of Haliburtons executives, and we feel hopeless. Occasionally we march. Occasionally we throw stuff. Probably not enough. But then again, most of us don't live in Redfern.

The Guardian quotes the then Australian prime minister, Paul Keating, speaking in Redfern 1992:

"Just a mile or two from the place where the first European settlers landed, in too many ways [Redfern] tells us that their failure to bring much more than devastation and demoralisation to Aboriginal Australia continues to be our failure. I am confident that we will succeed in this decade."

1992 was the year of the riots in South Central Los Angeles. A decade afterwards, at a commemoration of the riots, George Bush Jnr said:

"I fully understand that 10 years ago this city because of violence, a lot of violence, saw incredible destruction in lives and in property. A lot of hopes were lost, and yet out of this violence and ugliness came new hope.”

What a stupid, stupid comment.

“Because of the violence” the destruction happened. Bush talks of violence as the cause of the destruction, as if the violence itself arrived ex nihilo. It just happened.

Bush sees the “violence” as a thing in itself, as the opposite of “hope”. Heaped up on one side of his simplistic moral scales there is “violence” and “ugliness” – on the other side of the balance sits hope. Although – obviously – violence isn’t the opposite of hope. It is the absence of hope.

Likewise, the mere absence of violence doesn't equal hope. As Einstein said: "You can't solve a problem on the same level on which it was created. You have to rise above it to the next level." And the next level up is a political level.

This battle has to be fought politically if it is going to be won, much as it might seem preposterous to many Aborigines to have been forced to engage in this power struggle at all:

"For 50,000 years we have never had any desire or reason to build cities, let alone live in them. For almost 200 years we were locked away from the new Australia that was built on our lands without our input. We are not happy with many of the results of that nation-building process. We are not happy at our forced exclusion in the building process."

- Ray Minniecon, director of Crossroads Aboriginal Ministries in Redfern

Comment on this article: letters@thefridaything.co.uk

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