If we are to believe politicians and the press, Victoria is in a crime apocalypse.
Headlines read: “State of fear”, “State of disorder”, “Calls for action against rioting African mobs” and “Trauma of crime lingers in wake of African gang rampage”.
The federal minister for home affairs, Peter Dutton, spoke out for restaurant-goers “scared to go out at night”.
The Victorian shadow minister for community safety, Edward O’Donohue, and opposition leader Mathew Guy, daily post on Twitter about the “crime tsunami” and the definitely-not-made-up “Apex gang” causing untold havoc on our streets.
One problem with this doomsday narrative is that even police commissioner Graham Ashton has called bullshit on it – albeit with announcing the formation of a taskforce specifically designed to target people of African background.
Another problem is that the latest Crime Statistics Agency data indicate a 6.2 percent decrease in overall crime last year. Theft, particularly car theft, property damage and burglaries were down from previous years.
This is despite Victoria’s rapid population growth.
Then there’s the filth working for the Daily Mail who walked into a Tarneit shopping centre on 3 January and targeted teenagers of African appearance to photograph and provoke into a scuffle. The kids didn’t let it go quietly.
Three were arrested in this disgusting piece of entrapment journalism, which the Mail described as the “latest gang flare up” by the so-called Menace to Society.
Finally, there’s Nelly Yoa.
When the attention-seeking Sudanese self-proclaimed professional footballer-cum -community hero went to Fairfax with a heavily plagiarised article, there was no-one who said, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”.
Perhaps in the latest round of media job cuts, one too many fact-checkers were replaced with Homer Simpson-inspired drinking birds, tapping through approvals for any story coming their way.
The now discredited opinion piece, first published on 2 January in the Age and quoted by multiple media outlets, read like a Liberal MP rant. “Gangs do exist”, he wrote, “yet nothing has been done by the government, Victorian police or Sudanese community leaders … Young Sudanese people need to adapt and contribute to the Australian way of life immediately”.
You could assume at this point that if young men of Sudanese background unleashed violence against Aboriginal communities and refugees they would be considered more in step with “the Australian way of life”.
The intensity of the moral hysteria, combined with years of law and order campaigning have had an impact.
The justice section of the 2017 Report on Government Services shows that half of all Victorians feel unsafe walking alone at night. This is despite Victoria being one of the safest places in the world to live.
Astonishingly, only one-quarter feel safe on public transport. To be fair, some of us do fear being left for dead on a train station platform – but not because of a potential knife attack at the hands of a gang of African youths. It’s the regular Metro meltdowns, leaving commuters stranded in the summer swelter, that keep us up at night.
Backlash against migrants
The racist beat-up has, predictably, resulted in attacks on African migrants.
Red Flag spoke to a member of the Sudanese community in Melbourne who described an attack in the streets on a friend visiting from Adelaide. “They called her ‘n*gger’ and told her to ‘go back where you came from you thief’”, he said.
“Parents are worried about letting their kids out”, he added. “They think if they get into trouble they’ll get deported. People in the [Sudanese] community are scared to go out at night because they think they'll be attacked.”
Unsurprisingly, Dutton has had nothing to say about this state of fear.
The backlash is reminiscent of Kevin Andrews’ 2007 anti-African-migrant campaign, when he cited “concerns by the community” that never existed.
At the time immigration minister in the federal Liberal government, he called for a cut in the refugee intake from Sudan because “some groups don’t seem to be settling and adjusting into the Australian way of life”. A week later, Sudanese teenager Liep Gony was bashed to death in south-east Melbourne and 17-year-old Ajang Gor was brutally beaten in the western suburb of Melton.
Underlying this latest hysterical campaign is the oppression faced by African migrants. To be young and Black in Victoria is to be well acquainted with the one big, bad gang in town: Victoria Police. It has a history of racial profiling.
In 2013, six men took police to court for the constant harassment they had experienced growing up in Flemington and North Melbourne. They won the case, largely due to data from the Law Enforcement Assistance Program, which showed that cops were two and half times more likely to stop and search African men compared with the general population.
Police diary notes released at the time revealed how African migrants were viewed. Many notes read, “criminals loitering in the area”, with “criminals” being shorthand for “suspects”, which itself was shorthand for “Blacks”.
Reject the law and order agenda
It is not unusual for the Liberals to whip up fear and race hate.
They have an interest to push society further to the right. Creating moral panics to build support increased police powers and a more punitive judiciary serve only to strengthen those at the top of society while pitting the rest of us against each other.
The demands are always the same: tougher bail laws, more police, harsher sentences and greater surveillance. Red Flag has regularly reported how the law and order climate has served only to further oppress working class people, persecute minorities, pacify the left and fill the prisons.
Indeed, Victoria is undergoing a prison population boom. Prison numbers grew by 10 percent last year, the highest increase in the country.
Daniel Andrews has responded to the pressure not by calling out racism, but by embracing the “tough-on-crime” agenda.
If we are to take on the Liberals and the right, we must reject the law and order hysteria, and uncompromisingly stand against racist scapegoating.