Criminal activities by a section of African-Australian youths in Melbourne is becoming a serious problem. We must have the courage to acknowledge this issue and find ways deal with it. Many of our young people are increasingly choosing a life style centred on crime and anti-social behaviours. Although their number is still a tiny minority, but it is on the increase. Young Africans, many from a South-Sudanese background have been reportedly involved many criminal behaviours over recent months and the number of such incidents keeps growing. We cannot ignore this problem and pretend that everything is OK. These kids need help and not much help is going their way. The problem will not go away unless serious action is taken to address it, by different actors involved in addressing social behaviours including community groups, parents, the government, service providers and law enforcement agencies all working together in some collaborative ways.
Crime and the media
Those of us who monitor the media regularly are aware of Australian mainstream media’s quasi obsession with sensationalist stories and misrepresentations of African communities, especially when it comes to reporting criminal activities and anti-social behaviours. A potent example of this sad reality is the case of the “Apex gang” (or shall we say the Apex group, as it is not really much of a gang, strictly speaking), which has continued to be given quite a lot of publicity since the “Mumba riots” in Melbourne in March 2016. Some right wing media outlets are now using the word Apex as synonymous with “South-Sudanese criminal youths”. While these misrepresentations must be condemned, those of us looking at things from a community perspective must also have the courage to look beyond the hype and see the sad and confronting reality of crime activities increasing in our communities at an alarming rate.
One good change that is noticeable in the media is the fact that the ethnicity of people suspected of crime is no longer reported as widely as it was only a couple years ago. But the downside of this situation is that from a community perspective it may hide the issues that should raise attention and call for action. We should not close our eyes and refuse to see the fact that many more our kids are making wrong choices. We cannot and should not bury our heads in the sand and continue to pretend that it’s all about media misrepresentations and everything is honky-dory.
Crime breeds more crime
There is no doubt crime exists in all community groups and African-Australian communities are not immune from this reality. However, those of us who care about the image, health and well being of our communities should be alarmed by the increased number of our kids drifting into the wrong side of the law. We know that the great majority of young Africans remain law abiding and peaceful citizens who are busy pursuing their dreams and making a living. However, if we do not take sufficient and appropriate action to address the growth of criminal behaviours in our midst, the regular kids who are studying and working hard and nurturing big dreams in their lives will start encountering more difficulties in accessing employment opportunities, which may lead them to embrace crime. The rest of the community as well will suffer from the bad image that is linked to crime.
In my local Tarneit area in the city of Wyndham (Werribee area and the surroundings), an Indian community leader that I have known and worked with for quite sometime was on Facebook recently talking about a worrying increase of incidents involving attacks and burglaries of members of the Indian community by groups of African youths. Last week another another incident took place when an Indian family had its home broken and BMW stolen in Williams Landing and we understand that the perpetrators were from a South-Sudanese background. This was just the latest out of a string of similar incidents over recent months. These attacks, burglaries and carjackings are creating tension between the local Indian and African communities, and given the high concentration of these two groups, there are reasons to fear for the worse if nothing is done to ease the tension.
Questions to ask
There are many questions to ask in relation to addressing crime, more questions than answers, but if we don’t ask the right questions we cannot expect the solutions to materialise in miraculous ways. What are we doing to help our youngsters and address crime as an issue in our communities? Are we doing anything, at all? If so, is it enough and is it yielding any outcomes? How do we work together to make a difference in this area? Our community leaders must work hard to ensure the overall image of the African community in Australia and the well being of our members are not tarnished by the actions of a few but growing number of young people who are embracing a criminal lifestyle. It goes for the prosperity of both current and future generations in our communities.
We should not wait for politicians, service providers or law enforcement bodies to solve all our issues. We must proactively engage with them, tell them what we believe to be the issues, the causes of the problem and how we would like to see them resolved. In the wake of the Moomba brawl, Daniel Andrews, the Victorian Premier, was very quick to show some political muscles vowing to deal with the perpetrators of the violence and give Victoria Police the resources it needed to address the problem. Has the Victorian government done anything to help empower communities to address the anti-social problems and help minimise the chances to see any further violence spill in the streets of Melbourne? Have our our community leaders engaged in any significant and meaningful actions to work with the government, the community at large and other services providers to address these issues? Why more young people are in more criminal activities than before? Who is failing who?
Shall we stop dancing?
There is an inclination from many of our leaders to spend a great time and efforts in organising all sorts of festivals, parties, events and other opportunities for dancing and parading our cultural artefacts. We are also very good at creating a plethora of associations and other nor for profit organisations all over the place. All these things have meaning and are useful, but perhaps we may need to demonstrate more efforts in dealing with significant issues such as crime in our communities. Failing to take appropriate actions to tackle these issues will mean that all of us, including our children and future generations, will have to work even harder to succeed in what we do in Australia, because our more crime in our community will undoubtedly further tarnish our image as Africans within the broader community, hence resulting in many doors being closed to us because of the negative perceptions that are created about us through in relation to the criminal activities of a small section of our youths. We must act now, before it the damage gets too big to handle.