Please note: this story contains reference to someone who has died.
The death of an Aboriginal man in Broken Hill, New South Wales, has become the fourth death in custody in less than a month.
On March 18, Barkindji man Anzac Sullivan passed away during a police pursuit. He was 37-years-old.
Sullivan’s siblings, Donna, Elaine, Adrian, Mervyn, Jacqueline and Leslie, and his extended family have come together to mourn his passing.
“Anzac was a loved brother, nephew, son and uncle. He was loved by many in his community, and he will be missed,” said Donna Sullivan in a statement.
Sullivan’s death follows two deaths in custody in NSW prisons, and one in Victoria’s Ravenhall Correctional Centre.
The Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT are standing with the family.
“Any death in custody is an absolute tragedy, and our hearts go out to the Sullivan family and their community. We are devastated and furious that another precious life has been lost,” said Sarah Crellin, Principal Solicitor (Crime Practice) at ALS NSW/ACT.
“For four deaths to occur in the space of a little over a fortnight is a huge red flag that something is seriously wrong with police and corrections systems in Australia.”
The organisation is calling for an independent investigation into the death.
“We are calling for Anzac’s death to be investigated urgently by an independent body, and for this investigation to be transparent and accountable to Anzac’s family and the Broken Hill Aboriginal community,” said Crellin.
Victorian Greens Senator Lidia Thorpe expressed her condolences to the family.
“On behalf of the Australian Greens, I wish to express our sympathies to Mr Sullivan’s family, friends and community. I know they are hurting today,” she said.
“What they’re experiencing is something that no family or community should ever have to go through.”
The Senator expressed her frustrations as a First Nations woman.
“As First Nations people, we are sad — and we are angry beyond words. Why does this system continue to kill us off? We know that was the intent from the beginning of the colonial invasion — is this part of the same genocidal agenda?” Senator Thorpe said.
“Why should our people keep dying in places where they’re meant to be kept safe? The system is deeply racist.
“As recently as last week, this Government said deaths in custody were a ‘tragedy’, and said they were sorry.
“We’ve said it once, we’ve said it a million times. Sorry isn’t good enough. Sorry means you don’t do it again. It’s all talk and no action from these people, and these families deserve better.”
Change the Record shared the news via Twitter on Thursday morning.
“Four deaths of our people in just over two weeks. This is a clear sign that something is dangerously broken in the criminal justice system,” they wrote.
“We are devastated to hear about the death of Barkindji man Anzac Sullivan, and the suffering of this family.”
FOUR deaths of our people in just over two weeks. This is a clear sign that something is dangerously broken in the criminal justice system.
— Change the Record (@Change_Record) March 24, 2021
Next month is the 30-year anniversary of the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody, with many of the 339 recommendations still not implemented.
“Five hundred Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have died in custody since the Royal Commission that was meant to put a stop to these deaths,” said Crellin.
“As we approach the 30th anniversary, it’s unfathomable that more lives are being taken, with no sign of meaningful action from governments.”
On April 15, 15 Aboriginal families who have lost loved ones in custody will attempt to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison. A meeting that will coincide with the anniversary of the Royal Commission’s final report release.
The families have collated a petition of 15,000 signatures in support of the meeting, yet are still waiting for a response from the Prime Minister.
“Without urgent action, Aboriginal people will continue to die before their time, away from their loved ones, and in traumatic circumstances,” Crellin said.
“Before the 30th anniversary of the Royal Commission into Deaths in Custody on 15 April, the NSW Government and the Commonwealth Government must each deliver an action plan to prevent further deaths.”
By Rachael Knowles