17 February 2004

Spark that fired racial tinderbox

Shane Phillips, of the Tribal Warrior Association, said he knew of two witnesses who were prepared to testify to a coronial inquiry that police were chasing TJ in the minutes before his death.

It is testimony that will be hotly contested.

One eyewitness came forward yesterday to say the suspicion that police had chased TJ to his death was based more on rumour than reason.

The man, an immigrant local who would not give his name, told The Australian he had not seen TJ riding his red pushbike ahead of police when they came hurtling eastward up Phillip Street before eventually finding their way to the crash site.

He saw two officers run towards the impaled boy and lift him from the fence before placing him on the laneway and attempting to resuscitate him.

It is understood a passerby who phoned the ambulance and flagged down police after finding TJ on the fence post holds the key to how police came to find him and why they were travelling so fast.

NSW Police Commissioner Ken Moroney, Area Commander Bob Waites and the two officers who arrived on the scene insist they had not been chasing TJ before he died.

Three inquiries are running, by the NSW ombudsman, the state coroner and the critical incidents team within the police department. The witnesses have conflicting stories. The community has heated opinions. The politicians are trying to impose their own narratives on the event. Perhaps none of the inquiries can out the immediate causes of the riot.

But immediate causes are just triggers fired into a situation that has existed in Redfern for a long time. The story is not all police attitudes, or community failure, or racial tensions. The real story is that parts of Redfern have been a riot waiting to happen for a long time and what the individuals did or did not do was not going to stop it happening.

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