The BBC News 18th Jan 2018 noted that Melbourne is a place of stunning architecture, celebrated lane ways and tree-lined boulevards, of major cultural and sporting events. For seven straight years, Melbourne’s 4.2 million inhabitants enjoy top-level healthcare, infrastructure and education in the World’s Most Liveable City. So why would Australia's Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton say Melburnians were scared to go out to restaurants, for fear of violence? And why would his conservative ally, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, concur?
This serene city has reputedly witnessed sporadic eruptions of youth gang violence. Many of those involved have been African Australians, the Minister said. [Sometimes he specified Sudanese; otherwise I will use his more general label, African].
Police announced the establishment of a youth crime taskforce involving senior members of the African-Australian community. But this has led others to allege that the issue has been sensationalised by right-wing media, politicians and white nationalist groups. All of this has played out amid intense debate about what African Gangs are, and police insistence that crime rates in Melbourne are actually falling.
The story started in January 2015, when the Apex Gang - whose members of African origin had been linked to car jackings, assaults and burglaries - drew police attention after fights.
Aliier Aliier, champion footballer, born 1994
Born in a refugee camp in Kenya to South Sudanese parents
Majak Daw, champion footballer, born 1991
His family fled the Sudanese Civil War, first to Egypt then to Australia in 2003
Joseph Deng, record breaking athlete,
born in a refugee camp in Kenya to Sudanese parents in 1998
In late 2017 trouble flared again, with a fight in a cafe involving 60 youths “of African appearance”, a street riot after the trashing of an Airbnb house, and the assault of a police officer by a gang of youths “of African appearance”. The incidents have dominated national news coverage, with another Federal Minister Greg Hunt saying: "African gang crime in some areas in particular is out of control." The prime minister, meanwhile, blamed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews for "growing gang violence and lawlessness".
The violent episodes, and the racist responses, sparked anti-immigration calls from some. Stop Immigration comments littered Victoria Police's Facebook page. Amid such racist scrutiny, interpretations of crime data have fuelled the debate differently. Last October, a parliamentary inquiry on migrant settlement heard from Victoria's Crime Statistics Agency. After Australian-born offenders, New Zealanders made up 2.3% of all criminals, the people born in India (1.3%), in Vietnam (1.2%) and Sudan (1%). They noted that the tiny Sudanese community comprised only .2% of the state's population. So Sudanese-Australians were indeed a bit overrepresented in these crime statistics.
In any case VCSA statistics showed a 5% drop in the annual number of crimes in Victoria. Social welfare workers agreed, saying the anti-Sudanese rhetoric has been wildly exaggerated, driven by the politics of fear. Anthony Kelly, of Melbourne's Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre, found that Victoria doesn’t have a youth crime wave, ethnic or otherwise, so the attention the Africans are receiving is extraordinary. Sadly the over-the-top media reportage had strengthened the arm of white nationalist groups, who write to media outlets, politicians and police about the supposed threat of African communities.
Victoria Police said the new taskforce would establish more efficient channels to engage with African-Australian leaders.
Yet consider a very recent event. The death of a South Sudanese lass in Melbourne's CBD was a tragic and needless loss of young life, but Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton still said (22th July 2018) it was indicative of a major law and order problem in Victoria. As police searched for her killer, Dutton linked the death to Victoria’s wider problems with crime. We don’t have these problems with Sudanese gangs in NSW or Queensland, he said.
And Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull renewed the debate over crime among African-Australian youths, expressing real concern about Sudanese gangs in Melbourne.
Victoria's African leaders accused Mr Turnbull of using the state's South Sudanese diaspora as a political football. But Minister Dutton doubled down on the sentiment, accusing Victorian State Premier Dan Andrews (Labour) of denial over the issue. "This is a problem that will not be fixed until the Premier actually admits there is a problem. Andrews can’t even admit Sudanese gangs exist so how can he hope to fix the problem. More people will get hurt or worse until the problem is fixed”.
Others weighed into the debate about Melbourne’s criminal Sudanese gangs. Arch-right wing journalist Andrew Bolt said in the Herald Sun (4th July 2018) that Europe let in millions of Muslim illegal immigrants over the past 10 years. Now it's freaking, turning back the boats, banning the niqab and even demanding immigrants in ghettos hand over their toddlers for deprogramming. But is it all too late (for Whites?)
In response, anti-racist protesters have shown that the damage racist attacks were doing to their community was inconceivable. All the Sudanese-Australian protesters wanted was a fair go in this society. They asked the politicians not to measure the community in skin colour. After all, any nationality was able to commit crime!
Credit: Face to Face Africa
The widely circulated images of Daw and Aliir were powerful in two ways. Firstly as a perfect rejoinder to the recent vilification suffered by Australia's African community, and also as a source of inspiration to African-Australian boys trying to convince their parents to let them play football. Both men are widely respected coaches, mentors and development officers in the Sudanese community.
Note the talented Sudanese-Australian athlete Joseph Deng this month broke the long standing Australian 800m record in Monaco. The previous record had been set in 1962! After the sensationalist headlines about African crime gangs in Melbourne, we will await some mildly congratulatory, non-racist messages from Federal ministers to Joseph Deng.