News Blog #OurTimeNow: Aboriginal Australian families like mine are demanding justice over deaths in custody 2 MARCH 2018BY JODY PITT, #JUSTICE4TANE CAMPAIGNER In September 2017, Jody's family were hit by tragedy when her Aboriginal relative and son of Nioka and Colin Chatfield, Tane Chatfield, passed away at the Tamworth Correctional Facility in New South Wales, Australia. 392 Aboriginal people died in custody between 1980-2008, a figure that is shockingly disproportionate to the percentage of Aboriginal people living in Australia. Jody is a campaigner determined to make sure her brother does not just become another statistic. She says her family were misled by Corrective Services NSW about why he was left alone in his cell, and dispute their ruling that Tane died by suicide. Here, Jody recounts her experiences of coping with the death of Tane in custody, and why her family set up #justice4Tane, a campaign seeking answers for what really happened. I have a raw and clear perspective on what it's like to be left picking up the pieces, what it's like to be living life after a Black death in custody, what it's like to live through this ordeal when it's your own loved one who has died. I've watched my family's mental health deteriorate before my eyes. The emotional distress and hurt is too much to even bear; how do you even begin to process the premature, preventive and unexpected loss of someone you hold so close to you heart? Since the incident, when my brother Tane passed away at the Tamworth Correctional Facility, we've seen no accountability, no action or justice being taken. My family's feelings have not been taken into formal or genuine consideration by any authorities or officials dealing with this case. My family is large and extended, and the complexities of trying to handle everyone's grief and emotions is tiresome and psychologically challenging. It is hard to deal with when you are trying to find coping mechanisms for your own self and need for some of comfort. My family is significantly strong with a beautiful and strong foundation. We have wholeheartedly held each other up through all barriers in life and broke down so many walls and obstacles together. As one, we are more powerful, fierce and unstoppable - but even every hero has a weakness. Together we are imperishable, but with Tane's death, we lost a vital part of our foundation that we spent years building. Suddenly we became unbalanced, unstable, inadequate. Our hearts have become sorrowful; we have now discovered our Achilles heel. I couldn't possibly articulate how difficult it is to explain to the younger ones that their big brother is never coming home. How do you tell a little boy he will never see his dad again? That's just the thing, you can't! Death is a normal part of life, we grieve - we move on. Grieving is when you manage to accept the death of a lost one and eventually begin to move on, but my family are stuck in-between. How can we grieve when we're constantly angry and furious? That's not grieving, that's the feeling of being betrayed and disrespected by our so-called justice system. We now hold a remarkable amount of resentment. Tane did not die in vain, and neither will his name. My knowledge of the law is not substantial but is sufficient enough to know how corrupt and prejudicial our justice system is. My family has called for an independent investigation into Tane's death, because we suspect what happened was driven by ulterior motives. Black deaths in custody in Australia amounts to modern day mass murder, and still families like mine are left grieving with no closure. How are we suppose to move forward when our government is stuck living in 1788? How many more challenges must my family face before justice will be served? A mother and father have been left crying endlessly, brothers and sisters left uncontrollably weeping for they will never see him again. All because correctional officers at the Tamworth Correctional Facility took matters into their own hands, neglected their duty of care and committed a cowardly act. How is it that my family are the ones suffering the consequences for a crime we did not commit? My family has been sentenced to life in prison in our own minds; this form of grief is torture. Despite being 200 meters away from the emergency department at hospital, Tane's life slipped away slowly in his jail cell. Those last moments were vital, the crucial difference between life and death. Tane had a great chance of acquittal of all charges against him, his solicitors were positive he was getting out because no Person could positively identify that Tane had committed the crime he was being held for. He was days away from coming home after being held on remand for two years, he was overly eager to come home. Why would he compromise that? Once transferred to the Tamworth Base Hospital, Tane went into the ICU and was placed on life support. Little did we know, his life had already slipped away and my family spent 72 hours being misled, hoping he would soon wake. Later, Tane's death certificate would clearly state that Tane was dead on arrival, so we strongly believe the hospital covered up for corrective services by placing Tane on life support to give the impression he still had a chance, but days later would be declared clinically dead. His death certificate also states he died on the 22nd September in the Tamworth Correctional Facility, but we know he was in the hospital on that day. One of these details is wrong, but which one is it? How was this even possible? We also believe his body was being preserved for organ donations, hence why he was put on life support. Tane had died on the 19th of September at the Tamworth correctional centre but his death certificate says otherwise so which one is the truth? So many questions, with no answers. We need answers now, and we want justice. We want to end the the threat of death plaguing our Black men who are incarcerated. When will it end? My family attended a Black Lives Matter event to hear other people's stories, and to hear how eerily similar their experiences were to ours. To hear how common this occurrence is, was gut-wrenching. We ask you all to stand with us and help us put an end to this injustice of Black deaths in custody. About Author Jody Pitt's Facebook post about the death of Nioka and Colin Chatfield's son has been shared thousands of times since September 2017, and her family has used #justice4Tane to speak up about his untimely death. A royal commission in 1987 investigated Aboriginal deaths in custody over a 10-year period, giving over 330 recommendations. Its recommendations are still valid today, but very few have been implemented. Every year, Aboriginal people continue to die in custody. 32% of women who died in custody in Australia between 1980-2000 were Aboriginal. Read more here. Read more: Women's rights in Australia Remember her name: Women's rights activists in Australia Gladys Elphick (1904-1988) was a strong advocate for Indigenous women and non-Indigenous women alike. She is known as the founding member of the Council of Aboriginal Women of South Australia, which worked for the rights of Indigenous women. In 1984, she was named South Australian Aboriginal of the Year. Read about her here. Marjorie Tripp joined the Navy in an era when Aboriginal people were yet to be recognised as Australian citizens. She was an influential Aboriginal rights campaigner, who passionately fought for greater recognition of indigenous servicemen and women. She passed away in 2016. Read her obituary here. Oodgeroo Noonuccal, formerly Kath Walker, was a prolific poet and Aboriginal activist. With her book of verse ‘We Are Going,’ Ms Noonuccal became the first Indigenous woman to publish a book – it quickly became one of Australia’s best-selling poetry books. Oodgeroo Noonuccal was a key figure in the campaign to grant Aboriginal people full citizenship, which ultimately succeeded with the referendum of 1967. See this wonderful resource to educate young people about her here.