The new year began with fierce debate about the state of crime in Victoria, with not only police and members of the community participating, but also federal politicians.
Concern about “hoon drivers” and “soft” parole and bail decisions gave way to a new worry, with reports of a rise in the activities of gangs formed by young men of African background, mainly Sudanese.
Reports of criminal activity include store robberies, carjacking and home invasions. A group called MTS (“Menace To Society”) has been held responsible for some of it, especially in the media, but not all those with experience in criminal and social deviant matters agree that such a group exists. In fact, some say that there is no “African crime wave”.
Details can serve both arguments, depending how they are chosen. Most media gave plenty of coverage to an incident last December, when an Airbnb property rented for a party was raided and seriously damaged by a large gang of young Africans. Later that month, on Christmas Day, some 5000 drunken partygoers, mostly white, trashed St Kilda foreshore, but the incident was briefly mentioned and then passed over.
Other details can be inaccurate, misleading, or simply wrong. According to the Herald Sun, the Crime Statistics Agency (CSA) says a Commonwealth report in December incorrectly said that 1.5% of Victoria’s crime was being committed by Sudan-born Australians, but the correct figure was 1%.
The “African crime wave” even drew critical remarks from Prime Minister Turnbull and Federal Minister Peter Dutton, with Mr Dutton claiming that Melbourne people are afraid to go out at night. In fact, the African gang problem is not citywide, but is concentrated in some western and southeastern suburbs.
The overall effect is that people are perceiving Victorian crime as an increasing problem, with the Africans playing a large part. In fact, in the last ten years youth crime has fallen from around 50% to 40%. Last year the total crime rate fell by about 6%, the biggest drop in 12 years. The CSA also says that Australian-born thugs account for 70% of offences, followed by New Zealanders, Indians and Vietnamese, with Sudanese in fifth place.
No one denies that some young Africans are being drawn into crime, but it is important to consider the reasons, not the race. Ahmed Hassan from Youth Activating Youth, a western suburbs mentoring organisation, told the Herald Sun that discrimination, drug abuse, and lack of education or employment contributed to the rate of crime among young migrants.
A good example was set by South Sudanese refugee Mayor Chagai, who saw a similar problem in Sydney's western suburbs some years ago. His response was to get them focussed on sport, so he recruited teens off the street to form a basketball club.