Melbourne scape
Type
Polemic
Category
Racism

Total and utter racist bullshit

So it was all bullshit. Total and utter bullshit.

New official statistics confirm that the alleged Victorian crime wave – an outbreak of criminality supposedly so intense that, at one stage, Liberal MP Craig Kelly wanted road signs on the border warning travellers from New South Wales about the danger they faced – never existed.

On the contrary, Victoria’s safer than at any time in the past ten years, in line with a general decline in crime across the nation. As Fairfax’s Peter Martin notes, ‘at 1392 offenders per 100,000 people over the age of 10, Victoria’s offence rate was Australia’s second lowest, bettered only by the Australian Capital Territory.’

Crime in Victoria is not increasing. Rather, the new figures mark the fourth successive annual fall. That’s right. Contrary to just about everything you’ve read or seen on TV, crime in Victoria’s been declining for years.

But that’s not all. As everyone knows, the panic in Victoria’s been not just about crime in general. It’s been about a supposed spike in youth crime – the result, we’re told, of rampaging ‘African gangs’. Well, here’s the ABS.

In 2016–17 there were 8,280 youth offenders in Victoria, a decrease of 5% (446 offenders) from 2015–16. The highest decreases in numbers of youth offenders were for the principal offences of Miscellaneous offences (down 28% or 290 offenders), and Theft (down 7% or 162 offenders).

Victoria has the second lowest youth offender rate at 1,447 offenders per 100,000 persons, after the Australian Capital Territory (884 offenders per 100,000 persons).

Right from the beginning, the whole ‘African gangs’ beat-up relied on errors, distortions and flat-out lies.

You’ll recall how Federal Minister Greg Hunt announced that African gang crime was ‘out of control’ in parts of Victoria, while Peter Dutton said Victorians were too scared to go out for dinner. That was despite the previous month’s figures from the Crime Statistics Agency, which showed criminality in Victoria on a massive downward trend.

Then, later in January, the CSA released a remarkable ‘statistical clarification’, explaining that the figure showing a disproportionate rate of crimes committed by people born in Sudan – a statistic widely cited by politicians and pundits – was the result of an erroneous calculation, a mistake that blew the correct number out by forty per cent.

The amended figures showed that a greater proportion of alleged criminals were from New Zealand, India, the UK and Vietnam than from Sudan (with, of course, the great bulk of offenders hailing from Australia).

The implosion of the statistical ‘evidence’ about Sudanese gangs came after the equally dramatic collapse of an anecdotal buttress: the testimony of Nelly Yoa.

On 1 January, Fairfax had published an opinion piece from Yoa that began:

As a South Sudanese man who personally knows and mentors members of youth gangs in and out of prison, I firmly believe we have a major issue among young South Sudanese people in Melbourne. After watching the horrendous and appalling behaviour committed by my fellow South Sudanese youth in the past few weeks, I am furious – and in total disbelief – to hear our top cop and government officials say there are no Sudanese gangs in Melbourne.

Yoa’s intervention – essentially, a reiteration of the right’s main talking points – quelled liberal opposition to the ‘African gangs narrative’ while massively fanning the growing hysteria. Yet the piece was nonsense and never should have been published.

Noa’s article now appears online with the following extraordinary introduction:

Several of the assertions made by Nelly Yoa in this article about his personal circumstances have been challenged, exaggerated or found not to be true. Sudanese leaders are not aware of anyone in the community Mr Yoa has mentored. He is not training with an AFL team and while he maintains he had official trials with Chelsea and Queens Park Rangers, there is no evidence of this. Additionally, some of his “ideas” for solutions to the issue of youth crime appear to have been plagiarised from an article written in 2015 by Manola De Vos on the website devex.com. The Age accepts that Mr Yoa’s assertions and credentials should have been checked more thoroughly before publication and apologises for not doing so.

Round the same time as Yoa’s credibility collapsed, Merita Tabain, the Victoria police executive director of media and corporate communications, sent an extraordinary email to the editors of major media outlets warning them about fanning racial tensions. In particular, Tabain referred to a news photographer who’d travelled to Tarneit Central shopping centre ‘to take closeup photos of a group of African teenagers socialising’.

Tabain explained:

The teenagers had been doing nothing of public interest prior to the photographer’s decision to move in and take the photos and [the group] reacted to the photographer and what he was doing.

This led to police being called in and a scuffle ensued in which police were spat on and arrests were made. After the event, the photographer acknowledged that his actions had provoked the incident and apologised.

The photographer in question worked for the Australian wing of the Daily Mail, a publication that, in 2017, had been caught out using a publicity shot of the London grime group Section Boyz to illustrate a piece about Melbourne gang violence.

The Mail’s headline about the Tarneit shopping centre incident ran: ‘Police SPAT ON and abused as officers arrest African teenagers outside a shopping centre in Melbourne’s west in broad daylight – in latest gang flare up’.

Nowhere did the story mention that, according to Victoria police, the ‘latest gang flare up’ had been instigated by the Mail itself.

How did the media and politicians manage to gin up a crime scare out of almost nothing? The Economist Intelligence Unit recently judged Melbourne to be one of the five safest cities in the world; the Time Out City Life Index voted it the ‘happiest city’; the Economist declared it ‘the most liveable city’. Given those assessments, how could the tabloids successfully present Melbourne as a violence-ridden hellhole, a place where gangbangers would shank you as soon as you stepped out for a bite to eat?

By way of answer, consider the mass brawl that broke out on Chapel Street a few days ago. A fight in a bar grew into a confrontation between twenty or more people, a stoush that police described as ‘brutal’ and ‘vicious’.

As frightening as that affray must have been to anyone in the area, the state hasn’t descended into panic as a result. No federal politicians have weighed in, calling for stronger laws or harsher sentencing. By and large, the fight’s been accepted as one of those things that occasionally happens in a big city: regrettable, yes, but not an existential threat to law-abiding citizens.

Why the difference in the reaction to that fight and to similar incidents in Tarneit? Everyone knows the answer. The brawlers in Chapel Street were white. It’s as simple and as ugly as that.

The new statistics show that Victoria doesn’t have a crime problem. Unfortunately, they also reveal the extent of the state’s problem with racism.

 

 Image: Watering hole / flickr

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

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Jeff Sparrow is the former editor of Overland. He is the co-author (with Jill Sparrow) of Radical Melbourne: A Secret History and Radical Melbourne 2: The Enemy Within, the editor (with Antony Loewenstein) of Left Turn: Essays for the New Left and the author of Communism: a love story, Killing: Misadventures in violence, and Money Shot: A Journey into Censorship and Porn.  On Twitter, he's @Jeff_Sparrow.

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Comments

  1. Once again, you’ve fulfilled Walter Lippmann’s exhortation to the letter:”… to tell the truth and shame the devil”. Well done.

    I would quibble with only one thing: I’m not sure that the state, as a whole, is racist. i would argue that RWNJs see Victoria as easy pickings in their quest to whip up xenophobia and redneckery, or to quietly stoke these, one broad headline and meretricious sidebar at a time. I’m a semi-retired primary & secondary school teacher, and it takes a special kid to come out as a full-on proto-racist, and those that do, you can tell what sort of home life that they lead, and how their parents treat them (badly).
    Most teachers that think about this (and a large number do not, unfortunately) take active steps to teach about media (Murdoch and other) manipulation of facts, and how the RW of politics seizes on every bullshit utterance of the same in their media output. It’s quite pathetic how backbenchers’ Twitter feeds recycle the latest, such as this: would be pathetic, if you can’t imagine a hidden hand of Party Media Central behind this programmed drip-drip-drip of ‘information’.
    So no, if we didn’t have this fascist, racist bullshit infecting public discourse, and kids were taught to critically analyse ‘facts’ that are presented to them (which requires analytical and logical skills that, unfortunately, a smallish majority of my colleagues are ill-equipped to impart themselves), rather than the lip service that is paid to ‘critical thinking’ in the educational process, we might not get this fevered slathering of net-curtain-twitchers, a demographic the LibNats never tire of attempting to create, then to scare the bejesus out of. It’s only factual analysis that will send them back into their holes. For a while.

  2. Great article. Racism is too simplistic however. It is well-known that bad news and fear-amplicification creates demand for more resources and services to ‘fix’ the ‘problem’, whether it be military/law enforcement, medical or selling newspapers. I wrote some doggerel about this last year. Joe

    IF GOOD NEWS SOLD NEWSPAPERS

    If good news sold newspapers
    murder would make page 3
    as headlines shouted VLAD PUTIN
    HAD TWO BLINTZS TODAY WITH TEA
    Bulletin Just In: THE SUN
    IS PERFECTLY ROUND AGAIN
    paparazzi would photograph lovers
    holding hands along the Seine
    Politics compressed as an insert
    in the middle and never repeated
    or recycled as wrapping for fish & chips
    for any who much cared to read it
    the serial killers and rapists
    expensive bottles of Grange
    would never even rate a banner
    just a box on the crosswords page
    pasty-faced brokers and businessmen
    with ponzi schemes and lies
    would go after the cartoon strips
    or be buried in Classifieds

    now imagine poetry as Breaking News!
    on Page One: Chagall and Boyd
    if good news sold newspapers
    we’d all be less paranoid.

  3. There’s crime and there’s crime and there’s statistics and there’s statistics, both of which measure deviances from some imaginary norm (which doesn’t and never existed to begin with), so what’s the point in regard to these imaginary deviances(?), better to stick with the racist angle, for mine, so long as differences between racial groupings (?) are linked to power differences, that is, so long as texts and discussions are not produced solely by a particular social/cultural standard / hegemony, as a way of emphasising racial and cultural differences, or making such differences disappear.

  4. Total and utter? Doesn’t leave much room for doubt, does it? Its all just a big capitalist plot by the government to stir up racism (yawn, yawn) Lets drag Mr. Yoa into this tale. So, what can we deduce from Sparrow’s article? That there is a “white’ conspiracy (of course!) of evil capitalists, lumpen proletarian Sudanese youth workers with faulty credentials and a few fascist newspapers, to stir up racial hatred…really? Does anyone honestly believe this crap? What could their motives be? To reintroduce the White Australia Policy? Perhaps build a neo Nazi nationalist state? Get rid of all the foreigners, which would reduce Australia’s population down to about six million whites. Yes that must be it. Those evil liberal politicians, capitalists and others who stay awake at night dream of establishing the Fourth Reich in Australia. This is the sort of bullshit the regressive left believe, notwithstanding the fact that Australia is one of the most accommodating and successful multicultural nations on the face of the earth.

    The only credible figures Sparrow quotes show a decrease in youth crime in general, from which he deduces that there is no spike in crime committed by African gangs. This does not compute and evades the issue. None of Sparrow’s article disproves that Melbourne does not have a disproportionate problem with African youth gangs. There have been multiple home invasions families attacked in parks during picnics, dozens of carjacking, smash and grabs, stores looted in broad daylight, pedestrians randomly targeted, assaulted and robbed….check The stats on these Mr. Sparrow. Youth crime generally may be down but among the black African community they are disproportionately HIGH. I can’t believe Mr Dulce of all people, fell for this propaganda piece…

  5. And that’s the debate in a nutshell. Donnini presents no evidence at all but offers a series of anecdotes in support of what he ‘already knows': that is, the state has gripped by rampaging African gangs.
    No doubt some people of African origin do commit crimes (shock! horror!) but the front page hysteria about a very small number of incidents bears no relationship to the prevalence or severity of actual offenses. By way of comparison, let’s remember, early in January, the riot in Torquay involving more than a hundred kids attacking police, injuring some of them and forcing them to call for backup. That episode was far more severe than any of the so-called ‘African gang’ incidents and yet, unlike them, received almost no attention at all. Why not? The kids were white and as such they didn’t terrify the good burghers of Melbourne in the way that a few black faces do.
    Donnini wants to know who might have an interest in stirring up law and order hysteria. Clearly, he has been paying no attention at all to Victorian politics, where the Opposition has made ‘tough on crime’ rhetoric central to its campaign. Mathew ‘Lobster with a Mobster’ Guy sees the African gangs nonsense as his ticket into Spring Street; the media sees it (quite correctly) as a successful way of selling papers.
    It’s not fucking difficult, mate.

  6. It doesn’t matter whether there is or was any TRUTH in Turnbull’s DOG-WHISTLING re ‘African gangs’ [on DAY 1 2018 January 1st!!] Turnbull’s SHITE is just SCRIPT for the radio shock-jerks and other arse-trumpets of the Murdochracy and Fairfux with which to brainwash the dill Masses, who will NEVER hear about any retraction/correction of the shite. Prof. Donald Horne in Death of The Lucky Country was lamenting the LIES, TRICK and SCARES of the Conservative [Asshole] Party aka the ‘LIBS’ way back in 1976. These scumbags haven’t changed – they are just as scumbaggery as they ever were. LIES TOLD, SHRIEKED by shock-jerks – JOB DONE.

  7. The fearmongering of the MP with the suggested warnings to naive NSW tourists would be funny if it weren’t based on racism.

    What a dill.

    Anyone sporting the name ‘Kelly’ should be more aware of previous scares against different races.

  8. “White” Australians?
    Let’s have an analysis of the “racial” origins of some of those (with Family names like Donniti)
    Oh, too hard?
    Of course it is, they don’t have easily identifiable skin colour that the xenophobic Daily Mail apparatchiks can point to.

  9. I grew up and now again live in the Western Suburbs Where are these terrorising gangs? never seen so much as hint. I do remember however that before the trendies moved in anyone from the western suburbs was condemned as a lout or a tart. Racism and postcode snobbery all fodder to sell newspapers.

  10. If you import a bunch of people into the country who have few skills, and you dump them in an area where they have few prospects, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they start making arses of themselves.

    People need to make a living, and they need to get along in an acquisitive society, so in the absence of employment is it surprising that they might find crime to be a viable option?

    What’s disappointing is that leftist intellectuals want to pretend that the situation doesn’t exist. Fifty years ago the left was at the cutting edge of exposing the illusions and ideological biases of the right and the mainstream. These days the left is in the business of living its own illusions.

  11. I like to view the current AfricanGang Moral Panic in the light of the campaign, several years ago now, to close down all the outlaw bikie gangs, which were (at the time) “clearly” underwriting major crime in Australia. So the legislation worked, the bikie gangs were all disbanded, and Africans have stepped into the vacuum. Is that about right?
    Re Mr Donnini, I won’t reread the original article but I don’t think it mentioned a conspiracy of any kind, I usually notice (and often read no further). What it was saying, and I stand to be corrected by the original author, seemed to be that some people could gain political or commercial value from beating up this story, the Mail photographer being an example of the latter. The Tarneit shopping centre incident, the process that resulted (one many Aborigines would be familiar with, at least in SA to my certain knowledge), and the way it was reported, all support that.

  12. “If you import a bunch of people into the country who have few skills, and you dump them in an area where they have few prospects, then you shouldn’t be surprised if they start making arses of themselves.”

    Thanks, Futilitarian, sorta describes the continued white settlement of ‘Australia’, no?

  13. “… sorta describes the continued white settlement of ‘Australia’, no?”

    The White Australia policy was abolished a very long time ago so the continued (over)settlement of “‘Australia'” is multi-ethnic not merely “white.”

  14. “above the brows it ain’t, mate, clearly”

    It may well be clear to you, cobber, but I would caution against drawing a firm conclusion from an absence of evidence.

  15. Here are the stats below released on Tuesday. Not quite the way Jeff Sparrow describes it. Nelly Yoa’s intervention in the debate is a red herring. However, I don’t think the arguments by Jeff are respectful to South Sudanese leaders , who readily acknowledge that there are deep seated issues in their community. The debate should be about what we as a community can do to help the community [and there are many great people working with the South Sudanese community, especially in education.] Even NAB has a great program for employment training. Dutton’s intervention is unhelpful. Irresponsible.

    About one in seven Sudanese-born Victorians aged between 10 and 24 were charged with a crime last year.
    436 of the 25,000 youth offenders in Victoria last year were Sudanese-born.
    Despite the small numbers of Sudanese-born offenders, an analysis of Crime Statistics Agency data when compared to 2016 Census figures shows that these youths are drastically over-represented in offenders aged 10-24.
    Those born in Sudan are eight times more likely to be charged than those born in Australia.
    The Crime Statistics Agency data released on Tuesday showed that crime had dropped for the first time in six years, and that fewer youths were being arrested, but those who did come into contact with police were responsible for more offences.
    Aggravated burglaries and robberies, two crimes that have a significant impact on victims, and dominate the nightly news, continue to increase.
    And despite the fall, last year’s crime rate was still the second highest for the past decade. [Up from over 7000 crimes per 100,000 people in 2008 to well over 8,000.]
    Ms Neville described aggravated burglaries, which went up by 12.2 per cent, as the crime that “sticks in the head” of people, and makes them feel unsafe.

    • Hang on — you are quoting figures from 2017, the ones that were later amended. See this ABC report, which reads, in part:

      Since then, the issue has been discussed at length, with statistics cited across the media, including the ABC, that 807 Sudanese people were alleged to have committed a crime in 2016, making up 1.4 per cent of the unique offender population.

      Victoria’s Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) has now released a “statistical clarification”, saying while the 807 figure was correct, the number only represented 1 per cent of the unique offender population.

      The VCA noted that the error was originally produced by the Commonwealth Joint Committee on Migration’s Inquiry into Migrant Settlement Outcomes in December 2017.

      “Whilst the whole numbers in this paragraph of the report are correct and align with the evidence provided by the Crime Statistics Agency, the proportions were calculated by the authors of the report and are not correct,” the agency’s statement said.

      “Regretfully, some of the proportions quoted in … the report have been reproduced in a number of media reports in recent times and may have been misleading.”

      The CSA also noted the statistics were “now quite out of date” and the same statistics for the most recent reference period, ending on September 2017, showed more alleged criminals were from the UK or Ireland than Sudan.

      http://www.abc.net.au/news/2018-01-22/african-crime-stats-overestimated-victorian-crime-agency-says/9348882

      In any case, even if Sudanese kids were over-represented that wouldn’t change my basic point: namely that Melbourne is an extraordinary safe city and that crime as a whole is both low and decreasing. Yes, there may be some anomalies (those kids in Torquay!) but absolutely no basis exists for these ‘ermahgerd — crime is out of control!’ stories.

  16. Your moderate, measured response is at odds with the tone of some of your earlier comments.
    807 out of a population is a highly significant figure out of a population of approx. 6000 South Sudanese [estimated] in Victoria.
    I helped run a program that drew in numbers of South Sudanese youth. Helping them get work. There is real concern in this community. I want to see these kids get help; not swept under the carpet. Not a policing solution. I’m sure we all do.
    Exaggerated political rhetoric is a real problem. I see some exaggeration in your response. That it was all bullshit. Denying the problem is not respectful to South Sudanese leaders. Numbers of South Sudanese are small – statistically. Victoria does have the second highest level of crime in 10 years. Its come off from last year’s high. It’s still cause for concern. And South Sudanese kids are overrepresented. I mentor two who have been in deep trouble. It’s a massive challenge. And this Torquay reference is nonsense. A one off event by a drunken mob who probably regretted it the day after. Its that kind of easy, simplistic dismissal that lessens your argument.

    e said African leaders had acknowledged that a number of young people had “lost their way and doing some very bad things”.

  17. Your moderate, measured response is at odds with the tone of some of your earlier comments.
    807 out of a population is a highly significant figure out of a population of approx. 6000 South Sudanese [estimated] in Victoria.
    I helped run a program that drew in numbers of South Sudanese youth. Helping them get work. There is real concern in this community. I want to see these kids get help; not swept under the carpet. Not a policing solution. I’m sure we all do.
    Exaggerated political rhetoric is a real problem. I see some exaggeration in your response. That it was all bullshit. Again, I feel that denying the problem is not respectful to South Sudanese leaders. Numbers of South Sudanese are small – statistically. Victoria does have the second highest level of crime in 10 years. Its come off from last year’s high. It’s still cause for concern. And South Sudanese kids are overrepresented. I mentor two who have been in deep trouble. It’s a massive challenge. And this Torquay reference is nonsense. A one off event by a drunken mob who probably regretted it the day after. Its that kind of easy, simplistic dismissal that lessens your argument.

    e said African leaders had acknowledged that a number of young people had “lost their way and doing some very bad things”.

  18. All this has one bad side effect, or is it safe to assume that it was the desired effect from the start??
    I have some highly educated young Nigerian friends, one of the will finish his degree in Philosophy this year, and wanted to come to Australia to further his studies. He does not want to come now ! He tells me , those constant reports have given all Africans a bad reputation, and he is worried that he might suffer some discrimination or worse.
    In my opinion blaming “Sudanese Gangs” , is orchestrated propaganda against African migrants / refugees. In a way like: if you can’t make them look like terrorists, make them look like criminals.
    Sad, sad, sad!!

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