• An investigation has been launched by NSW Police and the death is not being treated as suspicious. (NITV News/Ryan Liddle)Source: NITV News/Ryan Liddle
It took less than a week for Indigenous Man, Eric James Whittaker to die in prison. Today, his family and friends marched to NSW Parliament House demanding reform.
Ryan Liddle

The Point
19 Jul 2017 - 8:31 PM  UPDATED 19 Jul 2017 - 8:36 PM

For social justice advocate Ken Canning, rallying against another black death in custody is all too familiar. 

His track record of over 30 years campaigning to raise awareness about the tragedy of Indigenous deaths in custody have taken a toll. 

"I'm getting very pessimistic,” Mr Canning confesses, as he joins a rally calling for justice for the death in custody of 35-year-old man, Eric James Whittaker.

“You'd like to think, ‘no, this will end today’, but while we have a Government that pays no attention to community demands and community needs, I don't think it's going to stop, while nobody's been held accountable,” Mr Canning laments.  

“In 29 years since the invasion and occupation of this country, not one prison officer, not one police officer has been charged with the death of an Aboriginal person,” he stresses.

Whittaker, a Kamilaroi man, was taken to Parklea prison late last month after he was refused bail for minor charges.  He was transferred to Blacktown Hospital and then to Westmead hospital on June the 29th after suffering a serious head injury in an unexplained incident.

His family, who have given NITV News permission to use his name and image, said the Walgett man died on July 4 following three failed resuscitation attempts. They said he was shackled to the hospital bed, despite being in a coma for the last two days he was alive.

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Mr Whittaker’s Aunty, Diane Whittaker, says her nephew died from injuries that have yet to be sufficiently explained. She says the only details she was given were that the head injury was sustained following ‘a fall’ in prison.

“He was found in the yard; that was the first story that was told to the family. The second story was told that he was found in the cell. They’ve given us so many different stories, covering up. I mean, we don’t understand,” she told NITV News.

With Eric in hospital in a coma for the last 48 hours of his life, Ms Whittaker says she is distraught by the manner in which Mr Whittaker and his family were treated by Correctional Services Staff.

“My cousin, she had actually taken a photo of Eric being shackled to the bed and his legs being shackled. It came to a point where they were bridging up to her camera and her phone and for it to be deleted. ”

An investigation has been launched by NSW Police and the death is not being treated as suspicious.

Mr Canning says it's time to change the status quo in how the system deals with black deaths in custody.

"We've got to stop with these internal inquiries and we've got to have independent inquiries and our people have to have a voice in those inquiries," he says.

The Aboriginal Legal Service of NSW was notified through the Indigenous custody notification service of Mr Whittaker’s incarceration and the ALS will represent the family at the coronial inquest.

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