We arrived in Sydney from America earlier this month to help publicise the broadcast of ABC’s Australian Story about our gay brother’s suspicious death at a Manly beat in 1988. We had no idea how many people would be moved by Scott’s story. We’ve been amazed and overwhelmed by the response. To all those who sent notes of support and encouragement, we thank you.
We were unprepared for the power of the stories that Scott’s tale elicited: about other gay friends, brothers, sons, uncles and partners who lived through the savage time that claimed Scott’s life. We heard about other men whose suspicious deaths were expediently ruled suicides, just like Scott’s. We listened to people recount how they tried to report their bashings, only to be told by police to walk, bleeding, to the hospital.
The day before Australian Story aired, Rebecca and I attended Fair Day to pass out fliers with Scott’s picture on it and seek information from people who lived through those dark days. Many fairgoers, seeing us with fliers, at first tried to file past. But as soon as we said, “This is our brother,” they stopped and talked. And talked.
One man, following the trail of fliers to find us, told us of his horrific bashing with an iron bar at the hands of a group of thugs, which left him with memory loss and nightmares. He told us of the ultra-violence of the attack, the police indifference to his plight, and the oppressive trauma he’s experienced since.
After the show, another man phoned to recount how six men had cornered him and another beat user near the Bondi cliffs. He and his new friend spoke in panicked, whispered voices and decided it would be better to run than fight, and took off in different directions. The caller escaped with minor injuries, but never found out what happened to his fleeing partner. “Every time I see a man in a wheelchair about my age, I wonder if it’s him,” he told us in tears.
A woman emailed to say her brother was found at the bottom of the same cliffs where Scott died. The police refused to investigate, classifying his as “death by misadventure” because her brother was found with his trousers around his knees. We are in touch with her now to find out more details.
Even after our 24-year search for justice for our brother Scott, we are only now beginning to understand the hand-in-hand nature of police indifference and the unbridled violence that was so rampant at the time of our brother’s death. We’re also saddened that citizens, gay and straight, knew about the violence but said nothing, whether out of fear or for other reasons.
Many of the people who committed these crimes are living among us now, as are those who heard them brag about their horrific exploits. We heard this week from a father who overheard his daughter’s boyfriend bragging about “bashing poofters”.
He told us he is ready to identify the thug. Another person told us that, as a pre-teen in 1988, he regularly listened as his dad’s friend gleefully described the horror on his gay victims’ faces while they were being bashed. The boy is now a man, and he too is ready to tell his story and name names.
We are heartened that this public outcry may lead us to Scott’s killer(s). Scott died a 10-minute walk up the path from the Shelley Beach, at a beat beyond the hole in the wall that some called the “church”. We are seeking any information from people who know about that beat, but also about other incidents of violence against gay men along the Northern Beaches communities and in greater Sydney. There are many “official” unsolved murders from this time, but we believe there were many other deaths, like Scott’s, which were overlooked or blithely indexed as suicide or “misadventure”.
We are grateful that NSW police seem now prepared to investigate these crimes and make a positive statement that they are committed to protecting everyone equally – at least this is what NSW Police Unsolved Homicides said in our press conference this week when they announced their $100,000 reward for information that leads to the conviction of Scott’s killer. The police seem finally ready to act upon new leads.
We returned to the U.S. even more committed to finding Scott’s killer. We hear the voices in Sydney urging us to push for broader, more meaningful justice and change. We want to encourage others to come forward, to add your voices and bear witness. It is time to detail the full scale of this scourge and present it to NSW authorities with a loud call for justice.
We are asking for your help. Together, we can make a huge difference.
INFO: People are encouraged to go directly to the police with information (CrimeStoppers 888-333-0000). Scott Johnson’s family has also initiated several confidential ways for people to contact us. Ther Justice for Scott Johnson Facebook page is one clearinghouse for information, as the website, www.justiceforscott.com. You can also send a confidential email to [email protected]