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Ban spit hoods!

I would like to preface this piece by saying that the work being done to pursue justice, legal and systemic reform by the families who also need to balance this with grief is awe inspiring. To turn up for your people in the face of what you have lost is courageous and so generous that there are few words that could ever be said to express the thanks that our broader community owes for this emotional, intellectual and physical labour.

The frontline workers, the people who leave their homes to go and support and advocate for our people in the custodial system, are faced with mob who are problematised because of who we are, what has happened, and that the government simply does not know what to do with us. Yet they continue, because without them – what are our brother and sisters inside to do for support? Sometimes these brothers and sisters are in custody far from family so having these mob visit, support, advocate for them and make sure they know they are loved and matter is work that is essential.

The community led programs that work hard to protect our people from the system itself are run by incredible humans that are doing everything they can in a society so hellbent on forceful oppression. These programs look to community, provide the care and leadership to see that carceral systems are not the answer to the issues that our society is seeing.

To every single family and community grieving, we love you, we see you, we support you and we are with you.

This piece is about one such family who in wake of the loss of their beloved Wayne “Fella” Morrison and who we have had live-tweeting from the IndigenousX Twitter account because today, the SA Parliament will vote on Fella’s Bill, otherwise known as the Statutes Amendment (Spit Hood Prohibition) Bill, to permanently ban the use of spit hoods in South Australia.

This vote culminates with the anniversary of five long years for the family of Wayne Fella Morrison, a Wiradjuri, Wirangu and Kokatha man, a loving father, artist and fisherman, who died in custody at 29 years of age and the anniversary of his death is this Sunday. Our love and solidarity goes to all of Fella’s family.

Since 2016 Fella’s family have called for banning spit hoods – the torture device that Fella was forced into before taking his final unassisted breaths – by law in all institutional contexts: prisons and police custody, mental health centres, immigration detention and everywhere else they may be used.

A statement (below) from Fella’s family will be read in Parliament by SA-BEST MP Connie Bonaros, who first introduced the Bill back in April 2020:

“In two days from now it’ll be five years since Fella was restrained with a spit hood. He was the type of man who truly valued his space and his freedom. It devastates us to know that he died without space, without freedom, and that his lack of space and freedom took the breath that would have brought him back to us. His death was preventable.”

The family also says, “Spit hoods continue to be lawful despite the risk to the safety and lives of people subjected to them, and despite human rights bodies  and health research recommending against their use, and in favour of safer and readily available alternatives, such as PPE.

“Our family has collected more than 26,450 signatures on a petition we will deliver to the SA Parliament demanding a permanent ban on spit hoods in all contexts.”

Fella’s mother, Caroline Andersen, welcomes the vote toward legislating the ban on spit hoods, saying, “The last time I heard my son’s voice was a week before his image became synonymous with these barbaric devices. I welcome this step toward accountability, but it isn’t the end for us. I call for a Royal Commission into my son’s death, and a national ban on spit hoods, so that other parents don’t have to suffer this grief.”

Fella’s sibling, Latoya Aroha Rule says, “‘I can’t breathe’ was a statement that shook the world in 2020, and subsequent campaigns signal to governments that the people are pleading to be treated humanely. Today’s vote will be a historic move for Australia that aligns with that vision toward justice. It should not even be a question… legislate the ban.”

The family says, “For five years our family have demanded answers and justice, while enduring a coronial inquest, with constant delays, a review by the SA Ombudsman and a Parliamentary Inquiry into the Administration of SA Prisons. We are still waiting. We call on Parliamentarians to support Fella’s Bill, for our son and brother’s legacy, and so no other person or famIly has to experience this injustice and heartbreak.”

SA-BEST MLC and Attorney General spokesperson, Connie Bonaros, who introduced the Private Member’s Bill says “There is absolutely no place in our society for the use of spit hoods regardless of the environment- whether it be in prison, a police cell or a hospital ward.

“Their use is barbaric and draconian and has led to the deaths of people around the world – including in Australia, the United States and the United Kingdom.

“I hope it gives some comfort to Mr Morrison’s family and I congratulate them on their five year fight to ensure these laws were implemented in honour of their son, brother, father and uncle,” says SA-BEST MP Connie Bonaros.

The inquest into Wayne Fella Morrison’s death concludes in the week of 28 September with final oral submissions. It is not clear how long the family will have to wait for the Coroner’s report and findings.

IndigenousX has been giving the daily updates on the inquest thanks to staunch mob attending, you can follow here.

Please continue to support the efforts of the family of Fella and support the campaign to ban spit hoods.

Header Image Credit: Walter Marsh

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