Calls for Vic police racism body

Calls are intensifying in Victoria for an independent body to investigate serious claims of racism by the state's police force - particularly against African youths.

Calls are intensifying in Victoria for an independent body to investigate serious claims of racism by the state's police force - particularly against African youths.

James, a South Sudanese man in his early 20s who lives in the Melbourne western suburb of Sunshine, says he's regularly subjected to police harassment.

"The first thing they do is slow down. They want to get attention. Then they want to talk to you. Then when you don't want to talk to them it's like you committed a crime,” he said.

“People in the street feel intimidated and they think we're going to hit them, bash them or something. We mind our business, everybody minds their business."

It's a familiar story to Tamar Hopkins, the principal solicitor at the Flemington and Kensington Legal Centre in Melbourne's inner north.

Ms Hopkins says African youths are being targeted by police in what she describes as racial profiling.

"The practice of racial profiling stop a person because of their skin colour and then investigate that person to see if they might have committed a crime. So it's completely the opposite to a criminal investigation which is where you have a crime and you have a suspect description and you go and look for the person who has committed that particular crime."

The latest calls follow cases in which Victoria Police have made confidential out of court settlements payments in cases where harassment and targeting of African youths were alleged.

Police based the claims on charges, mainly for assault and burglary, and compared community population figures from the 2011 Census.

Assistant Commissioner Stephen Fontana came under fire last month for his plain speaking.

"Groups of this background, of African descent, what we are saying is that they are five times more likely to commit crimes than the rest of the community. What is of particular concern is the age of the offenders. Between 15 and 21 but also between 10 and 15 and that is a real concern," he said.

But Deputy Commissioner for Regional Operations with Victoria Police Tim Cartwright says the police are just doing the work the public expects of them.

"On one hand, people say 'why are you asking the country of origin, you're racially profiling them, is that what's it's about?' It's a bit 'damned if you do, damned if you don't'. One of the basic skills of policing is interactions with people. So I would expect that if we get a large group walking down the street and we know that there's been robberies by large groups of young people, I would expect that the community would expect that our police would stop and speak to them about what they're doing and have that interaction."

In this extended feature for SBS Radio, Kate Stowell reports from Melbourne.

Source SBS Radio

Stay up to date with SBS NEWS

  • App
  • Subscribe
  • Follow
  • Listen
  • Watch