Melbourne Aboriginal activist Robbie Thorpe has a saying: “Australia is a crime scene”. He uses the phrase at almost every rally.
In his speeches, Robbie flips the idea of crime. The criminals, the murderers and thieves, are not in Australia’s prisons; they are in the establishment, overseers of a system that has brought endless violence against Indigenous people.
A recent protest in Melbourne against anti-African racism brought Robbie’s phrase to mind. The action had been called by a group of young South Sudanese people against Channel 7’s coverage of the concocted “African gang crisis”.
“Barely a week goes by when they’re not in the news. African gangs running riot, terrorising, wreaking havoc”, tweeted Channel 7’s official account earlier this month.
The protest organisers argue that there is no African gang crisis. There is only an attempt to vilify and scapegoat the South Sudanese community for electoral gain. I would go a step further. Not only is the African gang crisis a concoction, but the real criminals are those in parliament and their co-conspirators in the mainstream media. The crimes being committed are against the South Sudanese community, rather than by them.
Take the story of Liep Gony, an 18-year-old South Sudanese man who died in 2007, bashed to death with a metal pole. His murderers were two young white men. They attacked him after scrawling the vile slogan “fuck da n****s” in giant letters on the walls of their house.
Gony’s mother and cousin spoke about the magnitude of their loss and their never-ending grief. Through tears, they spoke about Gony’s desire to be a basketball player, about how he loved his family and was a generous, quiet and kind young man.
In his death they tried to bring him to life, to give people a sense of Gony as a man, rather than a cardboard stereotype of an “African”. They tried to bring home the realities of a system that feeds on racism.
“These are the consequences of Channel 7’s racism: racist murder”, said one of the protest organisers. And he was right. The criminals who run Australia create environments that foster interpersonal racist violence.
Several speakers talked about the experiences of their younger brothers and sisters at school and the increased racist bullying they are subject to. Others described the simmering hostility they feel when they get on trains or buses.
“Because I fit the description, they think I’m a thug. Because I fit the description, they think I’m in the Apex gang. Because I fit the description, they think I’m violent. I get comments and looks every day”, one man said.
Such dehumanisation creates a climate in which the deaths of Africans from racist violence barely register. I would wager that more people know the names Trayvon Martin or Eric Garner (victims of racist police brutality in the US) than Michael Atakelt.
But Michael’s death was just as outrageous as theirs. He was a young man whose body was discovered beaten, bruised and cut in the Maribyrnong River after spending a night in the Footscray police station in 2011.
No police officer was ever charged over his death. No mass protests swept onto the streets. No riots started. The silence surrounding his murder indicates the normalisation of racism toward people of African backgrounds in Australia.
When the media and political establishment spin a narrative that blames African migrants and refugees for social disintegration, diminished access to public services, crowded trains and suburban social decay, the inevitable consequence is increased racism. They know this. It isn’t an accident. It is racism.
The Australian ruling class is full of recidivist offenders, people who commit the crime of racism over and over and over again. Peter Dutton is a case in point. He can’t stop, because locking up refugees in concentration camps and stoking racist hysteria that justifies such crimes is an integral part of 21st century Australian life.
Turnbull blows the racist dog whistle about African gangs because he knows that it will aid his colleagues in the Victorian Liberal Party to make the upcoming state election a battle over law and order.
When Mathew Guy blames African gangs for the social ills of Victoria, he hopes that people will direct their anger toward the South Sudanese rather than the governments and the big companies overseeing high levels of unemployment and decaying social services.
These people are criminals. Australia is a crime scene.