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12 Years On, This Indigenous Mum Is Still Fighting For Her Son To Be Remembered

"I just want a place to come and sit, reflect and remember my son."

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Gail Hickey, the mother of TJ Hickey, who died after falling off his pushbike and becoming impaled on a fence after an alleged police pursuit 12-years-ago, has defied the wishes of NSW police and the state government by unveiling a memorial plaque.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

"I got sick of waiting for approval from the government and police so I put it up myself," Gail told BuzzFeed News.

The incident took place in 2004 on the 14th of February. Police were patrolling the area looking for an Aboriginal man who had committed a violent assault when they saw TJ riding his bike.

Witnesses allege the police chased the 17-year-old and clipped the back of his tire propelling him onto the fence. Those claims were supported by the testimony of two Aboriginal Liaison Officers at a NSW Parliamentary Inquiry into the matter.

The police say they were not pursuing TJ and they only came to render assistance.

The next day thousands of Aboriginal people took to the streets of Redfern demanding answers and accusing the police of pursuing the teenager to his death.

The Redfern Riots made international headlines and over forty police officers were injured.

A coronial inquest ruled the death a freak accident and said that even though police had followed Hickey down the path and found him impaled on the fence, they were not chasing him.

The family, legal experts and social justice advocates have long called for a new inquest, citing several inconsistencies in the police testimony and the fact that officers had consulted with each other on their initial statements after the death.

Str / AFP / Getty Images

"It’s important to try and get the inquest reopened and we’ll continue to fight until the inquest is reopened. Nothing has happened since we talked to the state government last year," Gail says.

Sydney Greens MP David Shoebridge told BuzzFeed News the blame for the long running stand fight lays squarely with police.

"There’s been this appalling dysfunctional stand-off, primarily caused by the police, between the police and the community about how to remember TJ," he said.

"The community and TJ’s family want a memorial on this site that recognises the fact that TJ died after being chased by the police".

Shoebridge said the police's refusal to accept the memorial would not happen to a non-Indigenous family in similar circumstances.

"The NSW Police have no business in determining the words that a family put on a memorial to their lost child. The NSW Police don’t make it their business to go to non-Aboriginal people and tell them how to memorialise their departed," he says.

"Yet they feel like they have this power over TJ and this power over the Aboriginal community in Redfern and tragically the NSW state government gives them that power by refusing to allow that memorial to be erected on this public housing land".

Last Sunday, Gail led the annual TJ Memorial March from the site of his death to Sydney's Town Hall. The march was almost cancelled after police objected.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

The police took the organisers to the Supreme Court arguing the march would compromise people's safety.

Lisa De Luca, Gail's solicitor, tells BuzzFeed News that the organisers were blindsided at the 11th hour.

"They dragged us to court. We were served with a notice at 5pm to appear in court at 10 o’clock next morning. Just a few days before the rally".

"They were alleging that we were just a crowd of rabble and that we would incite violence when every year that’s not been the case".

The Judge subsequently allowed the march to go ahead and, in particular, approved the route to Sydney Town Hall.

"From time to time, police will lodge objections to aspects of an event, and in this case, it related to the proposed route of the rally, which may have impacted on public safety," NSW Police said in a statement.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

"Event organisers and NSW Police agreed on a number of conditions [as to] how this year's rally would be conducted."

"These conditions were agreed to without going to hearing. The adherence to these conditions by the protestors was paramount to the successful conduct of the procession," the statement reads.

TJ would have turned 30 next month and Gail says all she wants is to be at peace and have a place where her family can reflect on TJ's life.

Allan Clarke / BuzzFeed

"I want the park [where TJ died] turned into a memorial park for TJ, so we can come down and when I walk past with my grandson I can say, 'that’s uncle TJ’s park,' and my grandson will know it’s his uncle’s park".

"I just want a place to come and sit, reflect and remember my son," she says.

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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