The horrific death of a 15-year-old Indigenous boy in the Western Australian city of Perth has seen a family “catastrophically impacted.”
Cassius Turvey, a Noongar boy who ran a community lawn mowing business in his spare time, was allegedly assaulted on October 13 with a metal pole. He suffered lacerations to the ear and forehead; the family told the ABC that the Midland St John of God Hospital revealed two brain hemorrhages.
He was later transported to Perth Children’s Hospital, where he was discharged five days later. However, after only hours at home he started suffering seizures and was taken back to hospital. After being put into a medically induced coma and undergoing surgery, he passed away over the weekend.
Turvey, his 14-year-old friend, and two 13-year-old cousins were all wearing their school uniforms when they were allegedly attacked by a group of White males in a black Ute, brandishing a metal pole and a machete and shouting racial slurs.
Megan Krakouer, the director of the National Suicide Prevention and Trauma Recovery Project, and a close friend of Cassius’ family, said that the family was “devastated.”
“The family is a close knit, tight Noongar family and it has been catastrophically impacted,” she told The Diplomat.
“It was nothing more than a cruel and callous attack on an innocent young boy.”
Western Australian police confirmed on Monday that Jack Steven James Brearley, 21, who was originally charged with one count of unlawful wounding, has had his charge upgraded to murder by the homicide squad.
Brearley made a brief appearance at Midland Magistrates Court on Monday but made no comment as he heard the charge.
At least one other person who has been connected to the attack remains at large.
Western Australian police allege that Brearley leaped out the car and ran toward the group of adolescents before assaulting Cassius Turvey with a metal pole, which police are continuing to search for.
Detective Senior Sergeant Stephen Cleal told the media on Monday that there was no indication Brearley knew Turvey. In terms of the motivation for the murder, the sergeant stated that “it is still subject to ongoing investigations by the homicide squad.”
“We are working with the family, and local businesses and the school just to ensure that northing further escalates as a result of this,” he said.
Nonetheless, advocates have been heavily critical of Police Commissioner Col Blanch, who told reporters that Cassius was “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He further went on to state that the police were “not operating on any principles of racism or motivation at this point.”
This is despite other children who were walking home with Cassius telling the media that they were subjected to racial slurs.
Dr. Hannah McGlade, a Noongar academic and human rights lawyer, was at Monday’s court hearing. She had no doubt about the motive behind the violence.
“These kids were set upon by young White adult males in a racist overt manner,” she said in a statement. “It is very clear this is a racially motivated attack.”
She was dismayed that three weeks after the attack, only one of the perpetrators has been taken into custody, questioning what kind of message it sends to the community.
“When you go out and kill someone because of their race it is particularly serious, and it needs to be treated as such.”
CEO of Pioneers Aboriginal Corporation Donna Nelson was aghast at the way police and the government how they have responded to the death of Turvey, versus how they treated the abduction of 4-year-old Cleo Smith last year.
“When Cleo Smith was abducted, a task force was immediately created an alert sent out,” Nelson, a Noongar woman, told the Diplomat. “They were given all the support from the community and the premier of Western Australia.”
“Contrast this with the perpetrators at large currently for Cassius. We haven’t heard anything… The fact they aren’t devastated and infuriated by this means they should have a good hard look at themselves.”
The Diplomat has been made aware that the attorney general and the Western Australian Police have been notified of the identify of at least one other of the alleged assailant in the attack; however, they remain at large.
Nelson said that it feels like Western Australia is currently a “lawless state.”
“My concern is not just Aboriginal children, but non-Aboriginal children falling victims to these individuals. There should be prime suspects that haven’t been announced and are still at large in the community.”
McGlade was quick to highlight the contrasting response when an Indigenous person is accused of a crime: “It’s plastered over social media immediately, and arrests made within the day.”
McGlade argued that a lack of anti-hate crime laws in Australia, in contrast to places such as the United States, added to the problem. Legislation outlawing hate crimes should be implemented so that – even if symbolically – crimes that are racially motivated receive adequate punishment.
She notes that the 1991 national inquiry into Racist Violence found racial violence against Aboriginal people was endemic. “There were recommendations made to nationally monitor race hate crimes.”
Some of these recommendations include harsher penalties where there is racial motivation in an offense and enacting new state and federal laws against race hate crimes.
As McGlade argued, “When you go out and kill someone because of their race it is particularly serious, and it needs to be treated as such.”
She highlighted various cases in Western Australia of First Nations people dying and no punishment being enacted.
In 2016, Elijah Doughty, a 14-year-old boy from the mining town of Kalgoorlie, was dragged under a vehicle and killed when he was pursued by a man in an alleged vigilante act. The perpetrator, a middle-aged male, was acquitted of manslaughter and was only convicted of a lesser road traffic offense. He has now been released.
In another devastating case, Leslie Sampi, a 20-year-old intellectually disabled man from Broome, died in 1988 at the hands of two non-Aboriginal assailants in what was reported as “one of the most violent killings in WA criminal history.” One of the men was sentenced to 3-and-a-half years’ imprisonment for manslaughter; the other was acquitted.
The prevalence of such horrific violence is one of the biggest issues facing the Aboriginal community. And now that violence has torn apart yet another family.
Hannah McGlade lamented that the murder of Cassius Turvey is not just a tragedy; “sadly, it is a pattern. A heartbreaking part of this is how often these exact situations have been ignored.”
For exactly that reason, Nelson said, the death of Turvey has been devastating for Indigenous people all over Australia.
“There is real trauma in our community, and we are begging: Please stop killing our babies.”