Sydney teenager Daniel Christie has died less than two weeks after being punched to the ground on New Year’s Eve.
Describing Mr Christie as a “beacon of morality”, his family say he died on Saturday morning at Sydney’s St Vincent’s hospital.
“While no words can describe how crushed we are, Daniel fought courageously over the past 11 days which allowed everyone to say their farewells,” his family said in a statement issued by NSW police.
“His death has left us feeling completely destroyed and has torn a hole in the wider community in which he was involved.
“We have been overwhelmed by support and have felt the whole country experience our grief.”
The 18-year-old was taken to St Vincent’s Hospital in a critical condition after being punched in Kings Cross on New Year’s Eve.
Police say they expect further charges to be laid against his alleged attacker, Shaun McNeil, when he next appears in court in March. McNeil has already been charged with causing grievous bodily harm, assault occasioning actual bodily harm and three counts of common assault.
Police allege McNeil, 25, hit three young men before targeting Mr Christie and his brother, Peter, when the other young men tried to hide behind them.
McNeil, a labourer, allegedly boasted he was a mixed martial arts fighter before punching Mr Christie in the face as he shielded the other men.
Through his lawyer, McNeil has previously told a court that the first group of young men was trying to sell him drugs and he acted to protect his girlfriend who was with him at the time. He was unable to explain his actions towards the Christies, police facts previously tendered in court said.
A court has previously heard that doctors believed Mr Christie would probably have suffered a serious brain injury if he had survived the attack.
People have the right to go out without experiencing violence, the Christie family said.
“No family should be forced to deal with this situation, however we are not the first and we fear that we won’t be the last.
“We do not want Daniel’s death to be in vain and are committed to rallying for change. Daniel lived by the mantra: ‘If change can be, it’s up to me’ – and this is something we will always embrace.
Mr Christie’s organs will be donated, the family said.
Since Mr Christie was taken to hospital, there has been increased pressure on the NSW government to tackle alcohol-related violence on the late-night strip and introduce tougher sentencing for perpetrators.
In November, Thomas Kelly’s parents Ralph and Kathy started a petition calling for drunkenness to be a mandatory aggravating factor that must be taken into account in sentencing. 18-year-old Thomas Kelly died after being hit with a single punch in Kings Cross in July 2012.
The petition had about 25,000 signatures before New Year’s Eve.
But following the alleged assault on Mr Christie, that surged to more than 124,000.
We have urged Government before to take seriously the urgent need for community education on the issue of “king hits” and other assaults using fists.
The death rate from such events would now have to be categorised as “regular”. (See below.)
And each death is not only a life lost, but a family destroyed, and another life – that of the perpetrator – ruined forever.
Yes, one potential answer is to legislate for higher penalties. But frankly we doubt any stronger statutes need to be on the books. We need to be more imaginative than simply throwing away the key for longer. The Christie family have suggested that everyone should stop calling a “king hit” by that aggressive moniker and instead call it a “coward’s punch”. And that change in terminology may, indeed, help.
But Dr Paul Gruba, a senior lecturer in linguistics at Melbourne University, says changing a popular phrase such as “king hit” is not so simple.
“The crowd that is going to have to change are the ones pulling the king hits,” he told Crikey. “It’s going to have take government advertising and media support. And whether young males are going to change their discourse to shame one of their mates is a far-flung proposition.”
Gruba says the term would first have to find its way into the style guides of the mainstream press, but that would not be enough by itself to change the cultural argot. He points to the example of the term “sex worker” instead of “prostitute”, along with the way the media shapes its coverage of people with mental illness and those living with disabilities.
Gruba says the media is using “sex work” over “prostitution” in order to “make the individual more comfortable”. But he says even if the media began using “coward’s punch”, the general public would not necessarily do the same.
“I don’t know how powerful the media is any more,” he said. “It took years to change with feminism. The most successful cultural change was when George Bush decided not to call it global warming but climate change and he had the power to do it.”
Gruba says any change in the language of violence would have to come from the street. And he is right, in our estimation. But the first step is to get out on the streets, and learn how young people would phrase the campaign, and no one is doing that currently.
Whatever we do, there’s no doubt we need to address the topic of grog. Dr Jennifer Pilgrim, from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine, agrees the community needs to change the way it views violence. But for her, changing society’s attitude towards alcohol and its misuse is more pressing than changing a two-word phrase.
“To curb alcohol-fuelled violence, we need to alter the drinking culture in Australia — particularly among young people,” she said. “Education campaigns, limitations on sponsorship and advertising of alcohol, and more research to support and guide prevention campaigns are key to a healthier future for Australia.” Pilgrim is the lead author of a report published in December that found alcohol was to blame in the majority of single-punch fatalities.
Whatever we need to tackle first, there is no doubt the scale of the problem. According to Pilgrim’s research, single-punch assaults have resulted in 90 deaths since 2000. That’s:
- 3,450+ brain injuries from assaults, all people with families, all people with futures, every year. $24,760,000 in costs treating those people every year.
- 394 faces repaired every year.
- $1.4 Billion dollars is the cost to the Australian economy of assaults. Every year.
So where do we start? Well, the war against excessive drinking is going to be a long one, and will require a revolution in social organisation, especially in a country with a “nod and a wink” attitude to drunken-ness, and a climate which encourages both being outdoors while drinking refreshing beverages.
First step? In our opinion, quite simply, we need to make punching someone – anyone – as socially unacceptable as other anti-social behaviour has become over the years.
- “Real men don’t hit women.”
- “If you drink, then drive, you’re a bloody idiot.”
- “Knives scar lives.”
- “Real heroes walk away.” #heroeswalkaway
We will never eradicate all “king hit” tragedies, of course. But some we will. Which is why, as a communications professional, I plead with our State Governments to take the lead in implementing age-appropriate messages to the target market. I know the advertising agency in which I work would jump at the chance to suggest a campaign.
We know that public advocacy campaigns work, especially against the younger age demographics that consume so much media. So for the sake of the young men who will die if we don’t take action to turn this tide, please, ACT NOW. Back a no-holds-barred, hard-hitting campaign with serious dollars, in main media. Make the campaign at least as impactful as the crime they seek to avert. All puns intended.
Really. Enough is enough.