Victoria's multicultural commissioner says media 'has hammered' African community
Dr Mimmie Watts says there are ‘pockets of disengaged rascals’ but objects to the term ‘gang’ after Dutton’s attack on judges
Melbourne’s African community has been “hammered” by weeks of political furore over youth crime and claims of “gang” violence are not helping, the Victorian multicultural commissioner says.
“Over the last few weeks, it’s just really been hard the way the media has hammered the African community,” Dr Mimmie Watts told a community meeting in Melbourne on Saturday.
Watts, herself a migrant from Cameroon, made the comments a day after community leaders met police to discuss a newly announced African-Australian taskforce aimed at tackling youth crime.
The issue is not a new one in Victoria but debate has intensified over the past two weeks with a series of high-profile incidents and pointed commentary from the federal government. People of African appearance have been publicly linked to crimes such as riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December.
Watts said there were “pockets of disengaged rascals” but objected to the term “gang”.
“A gang is organised crime ... we have a group of disengaged youths who are out there doing some of the wrong things,” she said.
Abeselom Nega, the chief executive of youth support organisation iEmpower, said: “I think, over the last few weeks, we have seen the effect of ... social disadvantage, disengaged young people creating havoc and creating significant problems.”
The Victoria police deputy commissioner, Andrew Crisp, on Friday attempted to ease tensions and said Victoria was not facing a crime crisis.
“There is not a crisis in this state in relation to crime or the behaviour we’re seeing of a relatively small number of people of African background,” he said. “We’ve seen, sure, a spike in antisocial behaviour over summer, over the last few weeks, but this is not a crisis.”
The state government has rejected claims by the opposition and federal Coalition that Victoria’s judiciary is soft on crime.
“They said there was no consequence for a young person who breaches a condition of their bail,” Victoria’s attorney general, Martin Pakula, said on Friday. “We saw just last week that that was completely untrue. There was a young person who was bailed, he breached his bail by having a mobile phone with him against bail conditions and he was remanded.”
Last week, the home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, claimed people in Melbourne were afraid to go out for dinner at night because of African street gang violence.
On Friday, he blamed “civil libertarian” judges for youth crime, while the state’s shadow attorney general, John Pesutto, labelled the justice system a “basket case”.
Victoria had 8726 young offenders in 2015-15, New South Wales 20,051 and Queensland 12,931, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show.