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Full stop


I don’t know why I need to write about E again. It’s been almost fifteen years since I wrote about him in Framed. In emails. In submissions to parliament. In press releases. In speeches …

Almost fifteen years since he died, aged 22.

I didn’t see him die or know him when he was alive. I didn’t speak to the man who killed him. I’ll never know the real story. But I sat through hearings and got to know his friends and family, spoke to witnesses, to lawyers, to cops, to other reporters …

I spoke at E‘s memorial service, though I never knew him to speak of. I only knew the hole he’d left behind and the stories that ended in it.

We didn’t all agree about E‘s death. Except on the fundamentals. Like who killed him, how, where and when.

R killed E.

E was sitting in a stationary car when R ran up, drew a .40 calibre pistol and shot him in the head at point blank range. Even the defence barrister and magistrate had to concede that much. The forensic evidence said so. The witnesses said so. And E‘s companion sitting next to him in the car saw the whole thing close up, though it was a while before he said anything. But they acquitted R anyway. Then there was a riot.

E‘s parents arrived from Columbia about three years before he was born. He spent most of his short life on the streets of inner Sydney. Like many of his peers he had some minor drug convictions but no record of violence. The night he died E was driving a car he may not have known was stolen. He’d just left a hotel, but the autopsy didn’t find intoxicants in his body. He’d never met R and didn’t know he was being followed until he was cut off at an intersection by several SUVs. Then R leapt from one of them and killed him.

A few years earlier R had come to Sydney from New Zealand where he’d been a drummer in a heavy metal band. After a brief stint as a salesman R joined the most powerful criminal gang in the state. One that had killed dozens of people over the previous decade and destroyed the lives of thousands more.

But it was starting to look like R wasn’t cut out to be a cop.

NSW police had only recently replaced their vintage Smith and Wesson .38 revolvers with the semi-automatic Glock Model 22. The Glock has no safety catch and is notorious among cops worldwide for its tendency to accidentally discharge. If you believe their testimony at the inquests that is. A few months earlier a constable at Eagle Vale had been shot and killed by a colleague while they were unloading their Glocks after a shift. My questions regarding how much training R had with his new gun went unanswered.

Six weeks before being charged with murder R had been hit over the head with a beer bottle. The assailant then pulled the pistol from the stunned officer’s holster, stuck the barrel in his stomach and pulled the trigger. R managed to grab the slide at the last moment and the gun jammed. He took two weeks off work to heal and recover but complained it wasn’t enough. He requested further leave and counseling but there was a crackdown on that sort of thing. R was armed and sent back onto the street.

One shot. E died. R dropped his gun and fell sobbing to the ground. Then the lies started.

The police reported E was a known criminal who was reaching for a firearm. That he was driving his car at R or reversing into a police car or maybe both. And you know, he was kinda foreign too. That’s the story the media originally ran with. Later, some of them printed corrections when it emerged the car had stopped and both E and his companion were unarmed, offered no resistance and had no serious prior convictions. Later. And smaller. And further back. Or not at all.

R was charged with E‘s murder. Not manslaughter or negligent homicide. They threw the book at him. Some say he was charged high to get an acquittal and fast to avoid an inquest, though I can’t think why any killer cop would worry about the NSW coroner.

The problem for the magistrate wasn’t whether to acquit. That’s a given for Australian police who kill while on duty, regardless of circumstances. Not one has ever gone to prison. The magistrate’s job is to find a reason to acquit. So he said it was all an accident. Then he had a problem.

You see, E wasn’t some isolated street kid or despised local thug. He was a widely known and loved member of the close knit community of East Sydney and Woolloomooloo. They knew E wasn’t a violent criminal. They knew he’d been gunned down and publicly vilified for no reason. And a good sized contingent, young and old, were sitting in the public galleries. Naturally the riot got more media coverage than the verdict, with the big question being “Are are our courtrooms safe?”. I can’t imagine what they’d have said if anyone but the rioters had been hurt.

The cops were still pretty unhappy about it so they took it out on E‘s friends and relatives. They were searched, followed, charged with petty infringements. Some reported death threats from police. They were gonna get what E got. When a NSW politician spoke out for E the police union sent a delegation to her office to shout abuse at her.

About a year later I attended a Sydney Institute of Criminology forum to hear a cop of my acquaintance deliver a lecture. I’d first met him at demos where he’d generally held back his minions and helped try to disperse tension rather than people. He’s a SNAP – a Sensitive New Age Pig – and seems committed to the theory of non-confrontational community policing, though the practice mostly continues to elude him. He was also local area commander over the streets in which E lived and died.

I’d grown to like him and that night he introduced me to his wife and children. We’d later collaborate slightly on papers debunking zero-tolerance policing. Without forgetting we were sworn enemies of course.

His lecture was about how hunky dory relations between police and the citizens of Inner Sydney were going to be under his reforms. The venue was less than a hundred metres from where E had been killed. Where another night, not so long ago, I’d been among a congregation of mourners who’d come to realise there would never be justice for E.

No justice maybe, but there was going to be witness. There were about a hundred people there, mostly students and academics. He finished painting his rosy fantasy and I was one of the first to be allowed a question.

“How do you expect to establish community policing in your command when your lackeys can kill people like E with impunity, vilify his memory then go on to terrorise his whole community?”

His face fell. For a second I thought he might cry. His answer was depressive, fatalistic and resigned. For just a minute reality had broken through.

There will never be justice for the victims of police killings. There will never be community between police and the people.

From → autobiography, cops

  1. Ken Oath permalink

    Poor fellow my country. ‘There will never’ is not exactly a phrase that is conducive
    to the Dreaming. If you cannot foresee a future where justice and community exists,
    then you are part of the problem.


  2. Amazing story so well told. Thank you. It needed to be said…


    • I’m glad you liked it.

      As Ken Oath noted it’s kinda negative. But that’s still how it feels where I’m sitting. And I don’t remember any of those involved talk about looking on the bright side either. NSW police continue killing unarmed people without serious consequences. The media still collaborate in character assassination of the victims. A Hollywood ending just doesn’t fit somehow.


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