Editor’s Desk: Cassius Turvey and Cleo Smith show us children can be powerful drivers of change

Headshot of Kate Campbell
Kate CampbellGeraldton Guardian
Cassius’ mother Mechelle Turvey is overcome with emotion as a choir sings in memory of Cassius at the vigil at Midland Oval, Midland.
Camera IconCassius’ mother Mechelle Turvey is overcome with emotion as a choir sings in memory of Cassius at the vigil at Midland Oval, Midland. Credit: Simon Santi/The West Australian

This time last year, the face of a child was plastered everywhere in the media. It was the cherubic, smiling face of four-year-old Cleo Smith, who was rescued a year ago this week after an 18-day kidnapping ordeal.

Fast-forward exactly 12 months, and the face of another child is dominating national headlines and the media landscape. The face of Cassius Turvey, the 15-year-old who was allegedly attacked with a metal pole while walking home from school with friends last month in an apparent case of mistaken identity.

Now, I will not try to draw too many similarities between these two cases. There are many differences — different types of crimes, different types of victims even though they are both children, different endings and different undercurrents and societal factors at play.

But what both Cleo and Cassius prove is the uniting force that children represent in our society, and that they can be a driving force for change. If something negative affects children it touches a nerve deep in all of us, even if you’re not a parent.

I don’t think I have witnessed a community, a State and a nation be so collectively attached to a case like Cleo Smith’s. The worry that turned to terror, which slowly morphed into hopelessness before the miracle news was delivered, that Cleo was found alive.

Then over the past couple of weeks I have been blown away by the thousands of people — Indigenous and non-Indigenous — from all over the country who have attended vigils and rallies to remember Cassius and call for justice.

No one can deny that racism is a problem in our society and it feels like a groundswell is forming which could mean Cassius’ tragic death might leave a lasting legacy.

By all accounts from those who knew him best, Cassius was a “beautiful boy”, with a big heart and big dreams who was kind and respectful.

We can’t just write off his death as a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

What has struck me so powerfully in the wake of Cassius’ death is how amazing his mother Mechelle Turvey has responded. The grief-stricken mother has chosen not to focus on anger or hate, instead she’s called for peace, harmony, unity and justice.

Here is an extract of Ms Turvey’s statement read out at the dozens of vigils and rallies held in her son’s honour:

“I don’t want any more violence. I’m the only person who can get justice for my son. Stand alongside me . . . I need to call out for calm. I am angry. Cassius’ friends and family are angry. But I don’t want any form of violence at any of these rallies in the name of my child.

“Violence breeds violence. I want calm and peace. I don’t want to feel prejudices, bias, I don’t want to deal with stereotypes of First Nations people as violent.

“We know from the early days Cassius would be a shining star. This was easily seen by his family, by the way he smiled, he laughed, the way he cared about others. Cassius treated everyone equally and respectfully. He was jovial, kind, and his heart larger than life.

“Cassius was the first and only child of my late husband Sam Turvey. Cassius was my 40th birthday present, which made him extra special. My husband was 47 years old, when he was born.

“Cassius’ dad had only passed away on the 22nd of August, after two years battling cancer, and was buried on the 12th of September. I didn’t think how would we bury my son within months of losing Cassius’ dad.”

How impressive is that for a mother just weeks after losing her child in such a way?

Her dignified and powerful stance brings back echoes of former Australian of the Year Rosie Batty and her response to prevent family and domestic violence after her son’s death at the hands of his father.

Kids are the innocence we all want to and need to protect and their faces are the last ones we want to see listed as a victim of crime or victims in general. But the reality is kids are losing their innocence in today’s world at such a fast rate, and are faced with bullying, peer pressure, racism, sexualisation, predators, family dysfunction, the dark side of social media and the direct and indirect impacts of drug and alcohol abuse, to name just a few negative factors.

If we want to help leave the world a better place for their generation and the next and the next, we all need to get on board and start reflecting on our own attitudes and calling out others. Those who downplay or deny or debate the other side. Because one thing is for sure — the kids are not all right. And neither are the rest of us.

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