Death of Indigenous teenager in Australia raises questions

16-year-old Jai Wright died on Saturday following a crash with an unmarked police car. His family members have raised questions over “inconsistent information” regarding his death given by the police

February 22, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Aboriginal teenager death Australia
A mural commemorating Jai Wright by artist Kalani Ryan in Sydney. 

In Australia, doubts have emerged over the circumstances surrounding the death of an Indigenous teenager in Sydney. 16-year-old Jai Wright died in hospital on Saturday, February 19, after sustaining serious head injuries from a crash with a police car. Wright was riding an allegedly stolen motorbike which crashed with an unmarked police vehicle.

Wright’s family is now calling for an independent inquiry into his death and has raised questions about the ongoing police investigation. In a press conference held by the Wright family on Monday, February 21, the family pointed out inconsistencies in the statements given by the police to them.

According to Lachlan Wright, Jai’s father, senior officers of the Sydney City Police had first informed him that the crash occurred while Jai was being pursued after being found riding a motorbike that was reported to have been stolen minutes before the incident along with a Mercedes. Another teenager, the same age as Jai, was later arrested with the Mercedes from the area.

Later, Jai’s father was told by a police investigator working on the case that there was no pursuit and that Jai had lost control of the vehicle and crashed into the police car.

The Wright family have stated that because of the “inconsistent information” received, there needs to be an investigation separate from the one that the police is conducting. “We have been given inconsistent information by police as to what caused Jai’s death,” said Lachlan Wright in an emotional statement to reporters. “Who do we believe now? What is the truth? We want to know the truth.” 

Lachlan Wright also questioned the reliability of the police officers conducting the investigation. “To be an independent investigation, you can’t be a police officer,” he said. “You can’t be a police officer investigating other police officers. That just doesn’t make sense to me. That’s my kid. I am never going to see him again. I just want to know the truth.”

The police investigation is currently being led by officers from the Area Command where the incident occurred. The officers in the investigation belong to the same area and the final report will be subject to an independent inquiry later. Nevertheless, the Law Enforcement Conduct Commission, the police watchdog in New South Wales, has said that it is “independently monitoring the investigation” to “ensure public confidence in the investigation.”

A public outpouring of grief was witnessed after Jai’s death, especially due to the uncertainties surrounding the incident. A march has been announced on Friday, February 25, through Sydney to police stations in Waterloo and Redfern neighborhoods.

Sydney has previously witnessed major protests against police racism and violence. Last week marked 18 years since the death of 17-year-old TJ Hickey in an accident caused while being pursued by the police. The death led to massive protests across Sydney in 2004, but Hickey’s family continues to demand accountability.

According to a December report by the Australian Institute of Criminology, 500 aboriginal individuals have died in custody from June 1991, when a scathing royal commission report on aboriginal custodial deaths was released, till December 2021. Four of these deaths were reported between November and December 2021.