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Chaplain says Redfern riot demands judicial enquiry

Longtime chaplain of Sydney's Aboriginal Catholic Community Fr Frank Fletcher has backed Senator Aden Ridgeway's call for a "proper judicial investigation" into Sunday night's riot involving the Aboriginal community at Redfern in Sydney.

The riot, which injured 50 police officers, was provoked by the accidental death of an Aboriginal teenager. Police deny the Aboriginal community's claim that police were in hot pursuit of 17 year old Thomas Hickey (pictured) when he fell off his bicycle and impaled himself on a metal fence.

Calling for a full judicial investigation, Australian Democrats Senator Ridgeway said the real issue is to ensure indigenous communities are "properly resourced" - with opportunities for work and education.

"Where you've got poverty, there's going to be crime - and where there's crime there's going to be violence and alcohol and substance abuse," he said.

Fr Frank Fletcher, who was the first priest to work with Sydney's Aboriginal Catholic Ministry (1987-99), said a thorough investigation provides the only chance of halting the cycle of suspicion and violence between the community and police.

"We've got to realise what a long bad history they've had from the police," he said. "While there's certainly been an improvement [since a similar incident a decade ago], there are still a lot of memories. People are deeply hurt."

Fr Fletcher, who remains Patron of the Ministry, said: "We don't condone the violence, but it's an expression of desperation, enormous frustration. Something like this could happen again."

Meanwhile Blessed Sacrament Sister Maureen Flood, who spent much of yesterday with the community, agreed that the attitude of many of the police is a continuing problem. But she attributed the violence to drug addiction that is fueled by "the drug pushers who are in there in a big way".

Sr Flood, who describes the riot as an "expression of justifiable anger", continues part-time ministry in the community after living and working in Redfern for many years.

"My own feeling, is that every now and then the violence breaks out because the people are so genuinely oppressed," she said. "When you think about the depths of depression of Aborignal people, it's no wonder that they become so angry, so bitter, and inevitably get on drugs and alcohol. It's very hard to break out of this cycle."

Fr Frank Fletcher MSC
Sr Maureen Flood SSS
Ridgeway slams calls to bulldoze The Block (The Age 17/2/04)

'Alcohol, heat, grief triggered the riot' (Sydney Morning Herald 17/2/04)
Aboriginal Catholic Ministry, Archdiocese of Sydney
Chased or not, TJ had reasons to run (Sydney Morning Herald 17/2/04)
Growing up fast - dying too young (Daily Telegraph 17/2/04)
Sydney riots over Aborigine death (BBC 16/2/04)

17 Feb 2004