Minister accuses government of 'playing politics' amid rise in African youth crime

Victoria Police Minister Lisa Neville says the federal government must stop 'playing politics' and tackle the rise of African youth crime at a grassroots level.

Ms Neville appeared alongside Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton on Tuesday when police reassured the Victorian public that officers were addressing the rise of African youth crime in the community.

Ms Neville later said some of the burden for preventing future crimes committed by young African youths sat with the federal government.

"I would appreciate the Commonwealth Government focusing on other issues, like providing migration support to immigrants coming into our community, stop cutting youth employment programs that are also so critical, TAFE problems and university," she told the ABC.

"All of those things that are so critical to really getting to some of the root causes of this issue rather than playing politics of this nature.

"We're working across government. We already have other ministers in their portfolios working with the African community, working on employment programs, working on education programs.

"We need to do both. That is, a strong law-and-order focus, making sure these young people are arrested, held to account, but also putting in place the services that we need in order to disrupt this and prevent this sort of behaviour into the future."

The comments come after Acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton fronted media after multiple reports of gang violence involving African youths in December.

Mr Patton said it was a "misconception" the police did not acknowledge the issue and he wanted to stress the importance of not elevating the status of these young "thugs".

"They're behaving like street gangs, so let's call them that, that's what they are. We acknowledge that, we acknowledge there is an issue," Mr Patton said.

"It is important to stress that we don't want to elevate these young thugs, these young criminals, to any status or give them any type of credibility they shouldn't already have."

Deputy Victorian Police Commissioner Shane Patton speaks during a press conference in Melbourne, Tuesday, June 6. 2017.
Source: AAP

Commissioner Patton said three primary incidents involving African youths, including a St Kilda brawl in McDonald's and three Sri Lankan nationals being robbed on the same evening, have attributed to growing public tension.

Following those incidents there was an AirBnB party and public brawl in December, and then an assault of a police officer where he was allegedly kicked in the face on Boxing Day, which bolstered community concern.

But the acting chief commissioner said it was important to remember it was only a minority of the African community who were responsible for these events.

"The vast majority of those in the African community are very good, very decent people, irrespective of their age. They are decent people and we are talking about a small group of African youths," Mr Patton said.

"We are tackling the issue, we understand their fears and we are going to seek to give reassurance and help gain their confidence to make sure the fears are allayed."

Mr Patton said an increase in detectives specifically working with the gang crime squad to tackle African youth crime was being deployed to help local investigators.

Earlier on Tuesday, a professional athlete from Melbourne's Sudanese community who survived a machete attack believes gang violence has worsened because Victorian authorities have been too "politically correct".

"Let's stop being politically correct and call it for what it is because we have issues within our community," Sudanese-born community campaigner Nelly Yoa said on Tuesday.

"It's just going to get worse and worse and at the end of the day it's going to come back and bite us."

Last Friday African-Australian community leader Dr Berhan Ahmed told SBS News the stigmatisation directed at African youth was not helping the situation.

The African think-tank leader responded to Victoria Police's comments last week there was an issue with African youth crime.

'We need to see correction rather than prison': Community leader

"The label is more superimposed on the groups, rather than the groups inventing them. The media is also not helping them and helping us collectively by putting that name – and those kids are finding themselves a name and a group. Instead of being a solution, it has been a crisis," he told SBS News.

"The stigmatisation is not helping us to move forward because employment is becoming a crisis, acceptance in the broader society is becoming a crisis, media – instead of being a solution – is becoming a problem in addressing this issue.

"But labelling them and stigmatising them is more alienation and more crises."

Published 3 January 2018 at 7:58am, updated 3 January 2018 at 9:26am
By Riley Morgan