Cassius Turvey: Aboriginal leaders call for creation of a ‘grieving place’ after meeting with police

<span>Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP</span>
Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP

Aboriginal leaders have called for the establishment of a “grieving place” in the wake of 15-year-old Cassius Turvey’s death after a “frank” meeting with senior Western Australian police.

Indigenous leaders came together to meet with police, including the commissioner, Col Blanch, calling for answers after what they say could have been a “racially targeted” attack on the Noongar-Yamatji schoolboy as he was walking home from school in Perth’s north-eastern suburbs.

Blanch also met privately with the family to extend his condolences as the investigation into the teenager’s alleged murder continues.

Related: ‘A lot of anger’: a community shattered by the senseless death of Cassius Turvey

A 21-year-old man has been charged with murder after the alleged attack when Turvey and his friends were walking home from school in Middle Swan on 13 October.

Western Australian police have said they are investigating allegations of racial slurs being used, but have made clear they are not speculating about possible reasons for the alleged murder and have encouraged the community and the public to avoid such speculation. They have said they believe a metal pole was used in the assault.

Cassius’s head injuries were so severe he was placed in an induced coma after suffering two strokes and a brain bleed.

He was in hospital for five days before doctors told the family he would not be able to survive.

The Noongar elder Jim Morrison said there were tears and anger as he and other community leaders met with senior members of the WA police force on Monday afternoon.

Morrison, a Goreng Noongar man, said leaders and police came together to speak “frankly” after Cassius’s death as the community mourns.

“I think from our point of view, having the opportunity to tell it as it is; to vent, to speak from the hip,” he said.

“We didn’t pull any punches and we shouldn’t. The police came prepared to listen and I think it was healing … we need to come together.”

He said that Blanch was respectful and offered his condolences to the community as well as apologising over comments reported in the media about Cassius being “in the wrong place at the wrong time” when he was attacked.

“He was going home from school for goodness sake; how can he be the wrong place wrong time? That really upset a lot of people.

“But he did apologise and that seemed to come with sincerity and respect, so that’s all we can hope for.”

The meeting came as thousands of people gathered to pay their respects in solidarity to Cassius and his family at Weeip Park in Midland on Monday night in a candlelight vigil honouring his life.

Family and friends and members of the public gathered on Halloween, Cassius’s favourite holiday, with many wearing black T-shirts bearing Cassius’s face with the words “Forever 15”. Others wore the black, red and yellow colours of the Aboriginal flag.

The vigil included a smoking ceremony and 15 fire pits to commemorate his short life as friends and family spoke of their grief and urged the community to come together.

Cassius’s mother, Mechelle Turvey, tearfully thanked the community for their support during the vigil.

Turvey paid tribute to his strength as a young leader, saying he lived up to his namesake – boxing great Muhammad Ali.

She also urged those attending vigils not to exploit her son’s death as crowds were expected to gather on Wednesday with vigils confirmed in more than 32 towns and cities across the country, including Sydney, Canberra, Perth, Brisbane, Alice Springs, Darwin and many others, including in New Zealand and the US.

“We know racism exists,” she said. “But do not use my son’s tragedy as a platform to blow your trumpets.”

National Suicide Prevention and the Trauma Recovery Project’s Megan Krakouer, who has assisted with planning and organising the vigils, said there were now 41 confirmed rallies across Australia. Rallies were also being held in the US and New Zealand.

“We have confirmed the vigils and rallies in every capital city and in many of regional towns around Australia, it’s so amazing having that support,” she said.

Blanch attended the vigil as did other senior police officers and government ministers from the McGowan government, including Tony Buti, the Aboriginal affairs minister.

Family, friends and members of the public gather during a vigil for Cassius Turvey at Midland Oval in Perth
Family, friends and members of the public gather during a vigil for Cassius Turvey at Midland Oval in Perth. Photograph: Richard Wainwright/AAP

Morrison has called for police and local government to work with local Aboriginal elders and the community to create a grieving place in recognition of the pain and loss that many in the community are feeling.

“We have a thing called collective healing and we’d sit around and yarn and come together.

“There’s spaces all over the country that aren’t being used … and that could create a better opportunity for relationship building and our mob understanding what the police system is about,” Morrison said.

He said the community, including young children and teenagers, were traumatised over the death and that a collective healing space would create a culturally appropriate space to heal.

He said he had seen and heard the impact of the death reverberate around the community.

“My grandkids were with that boy when he died. So he was their uncle. There’s kids sitting there crying, all crying because of a loss, and these kids need an avenue to share that grief.

“We’ve got to have places for them, not at school, it needs to be some sort of community centre that has a healing focus.”

WA police have been contacted for further comment.