A 15 year-old named Tyler Cassidy was killed by police in the inner northern suburb of Northcote last Thursday night. Witnesses reported that three police officers fired up to 6 or 7 shots at the young man hitting him in the chest. He died at the scene.
Considering that Greece has been gripped by riots that were sparked by police killing a 15 year old youth, you would have thought that the Victorian Police would have thought twice before taking such a heavy handed approach. Unfortunately this was not the case.
Instead the police claim that they had no choice but to kill the teenager as he was carrying two knives. They alleged he was acting aggressively towards the officers and that they were unable to subdue him with capsicum spray.
The press has since revealed that Cassidy was a member of a fascist group called the Southern Cross Soldiers. While the Socialist Party stands firm against racism and has absolutely no sympathies for this extremist group, this does not mean we condone the behaviour of the police.
The police who shot Cassidy had no idea about his reactionary views. From their point of view he was just a troubled youth who had gone off the rails. The actions of the police were an extreme over reaction and they should be charged with his murder.
Far from accepting responsibility, senior police have defended the officers’ actions. Assistant Police Commissioner Tim Cartwright said the “officers had no choice but to open fire. We train our police members, they foamed him, they’ve talked to him, they’ve done what they can.”
The police also claim that Cassidy had told them that he would kill them unless they killed him first. While it is not clear if this is true, what is clear is that this young man was displaying irrational emotional and psychological symptoms. Yet the police made no attempts to call in a Crisis Assessment Team who are skilled in calming such situations.
The family of the teenager has correctly labelled the police officers “trigger happy”. The Cassidy family has said that they are planning to take legal action against the police for what they believed were heavy handed tactics. This should be supported.
The right wing union covering police officers, the Police Association, have used the incident to push for officers to be equipped with even more weapons including taser guns. This push should be vigorously opposed. The police are already armed to the teeth and taser guns are also capable of killing people.
The issue at hand stems from the role of the police in a capitalist society. Socialists see the police as an important part of the state apparatus and as such their primary role is to suppress the working class.
The real function of the police is to protect the interests of big business and not ordinary people. This is seen in the many examples where employers have stolen thousands of dollars of workers wages and never even seen the inside of a courtroom. At the same time working people are locked up for the most trivial of crimes.
With ordinary people finding it hard to access decent jobs, healthcare and education it is often the case that the system leaves many behind. This is bound to get worse as the economy declines and governments argue for cuts to services coupled with more money for law and order. This is why police violence cannot be separated from the overall assault on the living standards, democratic rights and conditions of working people.
If the main aim of the police was really to protect people from crime, the ruling class would have no problem allowing local committees of democratically elected community representatives to decide how the police should operate. Only this would ensure that the police act in the interest of their communities and not the big business elite.
Victoria Police are now promising an investigation into the shooting of Cassidy but this is totally inadequate. We need the police officers to be charged and for respected members of the community to conduct an independent investigation. This should be accompanied by a political struggle against police violence and against the big business elite who the police defend.