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Issue #1612      September 25, 2013

Culture & Life

John Pat – 30 years on

“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, September 28, 2012

In the 30 years since the death of John Pat, there has been no official apology to his family or a memorial headstone placed in Roebourne.

September 28, John Pat Day.

John Pat was just 16-years-old when he died in custody on September 28, 1983 at Roebourne police station. When he saw his friend, Ashley James, assaulted and racially abused by off-duty police officers outside a hotel, he intervened. Witnesses saw a police officer strike John Pat in the face and shove him backwards. He fell and struck his head on the pavement. While lying defenceless on the ground another came over and kicked him in the head. Witnesses saw John Pat kicked in the face by another officer before being thrown into the van. The subsequent autopsy showed injuries consistent with sustained multiple massive blows to the head.

In May, 1986, an all-white jury found the four police officers and a police aide not guilty of manslaughter. John Pat’s death, the acquittal of police, an epidemic of deaths in custody sparked a massive campaign in the 1980s. This huge campaign simply could not be ignored. From 1980 to 1989 the Hawke government established the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It made 339 recommendations for reform. Unfortunately, many remain unimplemented or abandoned.

Two decades after the Royal Commission’s report, a major review of deaths in custody has found a substantial increase in the number of Aboriginal people dying in custody over the last five years in line with an almost doubling of the number of Aboriginal people being locked up.

We will call on the Western Australian Government to:

  • Make an unreserved apology to John Pat’s mother Mavis Pat and family;
  • To take action against systemic racism in the police and criminal justice system;
  • Commit to a program of action to significantly reduce the imprisonment of Aboriginal people in Western Australia (Build Communities Not Prisons);
  • Conduct an audit of the implementation of the recommendations of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody;
  • End privatisation of custodial services;
  • Establish an independent authority with legislative powers to investigate complaints about police and corrective services;
  • Pass legislation to hold corporations and government legally responsible for their role in a death in custody; and
  • Repeal mandatory sentencing legislation.

John Pat Memorial CD Launch and Fundraiser

Sunday night September 29 at the Fly by Night Club, Big Hart will launch a CD to honour John Pat on the 30th anniversary of his death. The CD that will be released is the work of the Roebourne community and inmates in the Roebourne prison, along with some of Australia’s best musicians, singers and songwriters. The memory of John Pat will live on through the music of his people.

Funds raised will enable the family to install a memorial in Roebourne.

Tickets available at www.flybynight.org

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