Mon, Feb 23, 2004 - Page 5 News List

Sydney cops may boycott

ABORIGINAL GHETTO Police are scheduled to vote on making a tough area known as `The Block' a `no-go zone' after recent violence caused injuries


Police will vote this week on a proposal to boycott an Aboriginal ghetto where a violent race riot broke out last week, leaving 40 officers injured, a news report said yesterday.

The Sydney tabloid The Sun-Herald said police are thinking about declaring the slum, known as "The Block," a no-go zone to protest an alleged lack of support from senior officers and lawmakers in the aftermath of the violence.

The Feb. 15-16 riot was triggered by the death of a 17-year-old Aborigine, Thomas Hickey, who was impaled on a fence after falling from his bicycle. His family claimed he was being chased by police, but police have denied any involvement.

Officers were feeling abandoned and were disappointed with the state government's response to the violence, the newspaper quoted Sergeant Paul Huxtable, executive officer of the police force's labor union, as saying.

But New South Wales state Police Minister John Watkins was quick to deny that he had ignored the officers' plight.

Watkins said his support was "unequivocal" for police in the troubled Redfern suburb, where The Block is located.

Officers "are dealing with tough and dangerous conditions in Redfern, and they are putting offenders before the courts," Watkins said in a statement.

Police didn't immediately return calls seeking confirmation that they plan to vote on boycotting The Block, a garbage-strewn grid of derelict houses rife with heroin dealers, petty criminals and alcoholics.

In the northwest New South Wales town of Walgett, where Hickey was from, police are preparing for his funeral tomorrow.

The town will have four extra Aboriginal community liaison officers and several extra police from surrounding towns working tomorrow, Police Inspector David Simmons said.

Hickey's father, Ian West, is currently in prison. Authorities have said it's unlikely he will be allowed to attend his son's funeral.

It wasn't immediately clear what West was jailed for. An aunt of Hickey's has also been prevented from attending, after a magistrate on Friday ordered her detained on charges she was involved in the riot.

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