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Police shootings have many victims

  • 22 December 2008

Yet another police shooting occurred over the weekend. A junior officer fired several shots after a 48-year-old woman lunged at her with a knife at North Parramatta in Sydney. The woman is in a serious but stable condition in hospital. But at least she is recovering.

Tyler Cassidy was not so lucky. The Melbourne 15-year-old was killed 11 days ago as he confronted police in a suburban skate park armed with two knives.

It is gratifying that there was no anger directed towards police during his funeral service on Thursday.

RMIT University criminologist Dr Julian Bondy expressed alarm at the earlier outpouring of distress and anger towards the police, particularly on internet social networking sites. Bondy was referring to descriptions of Cassidy as a 'soldier' in the 'war' against authorities.

Perhaps it is time to question the extent to which we should be proud of the anti-authoritarianism in our culture.

Clashes with police have played a prominent part in the 220 years since white settlement. We lionise Ned Kelly. We celebrate our convict heritage, and we take for granted justification of the Eureka Stockade uprising against police at Ballarat in 1854. There is even a proud and conscious echo of this event in the title of this publication.

We also had last week's defiant reaction of Palm Islanders and other Australians to the appeal court decision to overturn the coroner's finding that Senior Sergeant Chris Hurley was responsible for the 2004 death in custody of Palm Islander Cameron Mulrunji Doomadgee.

There are bad police, but there are also good police, just as there are bad and good citizens. All have the same right to justice. This is a more complex situation, and there is a strong case to argue for a royal commission. But Queensland Premier Anna Bligh had a point when she insisted last week that 'in our legal system people are entitled to seek an appeal and that's what's happened here and I think that reflects the health of our system'.

After the Tyler Cassidy incident, we received a letter from Phil Pyke, who was a Tasmanian police officer until 2007. He related his personal experience of what it's like for police to 'face the angry man', in his case a known criminal with a history of violence. The besieged criminal warned police that he wanted to die in a shoot-out with them. Believing the lives of officers were in danger, Pyke began to