SBS World News Radio: Victoria's South Sudanese community has condemned the media coverage following the violence that took place in Melbourne's city centre over the weekend.
Victoria's South Sudanese community has condemned the media coverage following the violence that took place in Melbourne's city centre over the weekend.
A brawl involving more than a hundred young men and youths took place during Moomba celebrations in Federation Square on Saturday night.
Media reports suggested those involved were from South Sudanese and Islander backgrounds.
Revellers at Melbourne's annual Moomba festival were forced to take cover as those involved in the brawl allegedly provoked police and bystanders.
Initial reports had suggested two rival gangs were involved.
However, Victoria Police have now dismissed those claims, saying it was just one large group involved.
They allege a group known as Apex was to blame for the violence.
Police were also quick to stress those involved came from various ethnic backgrounds.
But in Melbourne, 3AW radio commentator Neil Mitchell has criticised the way Victoria police handled the matter.
"We can't dodge this. There is a racial element to it. The gangs are organised mostly on racial grounds. Police need to be able to deal with it. Police are too frightened now to stop somebody. They see a carload of kids that happen to be black, but they're reluctant to stop them. I see no problem with police saying, 'We've got a Sudanese and Islander gang problem.'"
But one group representing members of the South Sudanese community in Victoria has rejected those claims.
The South Sudanese Community Association in Victoria says in a statement it is unfair to focus on the race and ethnicity of the alleged offenders.
"We do not accept police or media exaggeration of the Apex gang comprising of as many as 150 youth of Sudanese origin. This is not true. The preliminary investigation from our end, at the community leadership level, puts the offenders in this group at around six to 10 teenagers in the age group of around 14 and above. The rest of the youth were people who attended as spectators of the event, like many other people who attended the Moomba event on the night of the 12th of March, 2016."
The association suggests in its statement the coverage and commentary is a case of racial profiling - that is, when a group of people are targeted simply based on their appearance.
"The media headlines and police spokespersons have screamed 'Sudanese ethnicity' and linked it to this group of wild youth. This is a significant damage to our ethnic identity. Time over and time over, we suffer this endless game of blaming our ethnicity. We have seen binge drinking and subsequent brawls and spats by youth from white mainstream community, yet no one linked these violent events to white identity. Isn't this a case of racial profiling? ... Such references serve to remind us daily that we are yet to be accepted by this great country, which many of us embrace and have integrated (into) well."
Anthony Kelly is from the Flemington-Kensington Community Legal Centre, which works with members of Melbourne's African communities on race-based legal cases.
The centre also represented a group of young African-Australian men who alleged Victoria police were targeting them simply because of their race, rather than their actions.
That led to police admitting to racial profiling and an overhaul of how they dealt with migrant communities in Victoria.
Mr Kelly says Victoria police are getting better at breaking the nexus between race and criminal behaviour.
He says that was evident when they did not emphasise the racial or cultural backgrounds of those allegedly involved.
And Mr Kelly suggests it was the media that jumped to conclusions.
"There's no real, actual correlation. Victoria police are looking at how they might engage in discriminatory activities and how they can prevent that. It has nothing to do with how they police this particular incident at the moment. What we've always said is that ethnicity is not a primary factor in criminal activity, and the data's been showing that consistently. There's no correlation or link between a person's race or ethnicity and their propensity for criminal activity. That's been proven time and time again as no correlation."
Mr Kelly argues, in the incident in Melbourne, highlighting the race and ethnicity of the alleged victims was not relevant.
"It often confuses the issue, rather than clarifies it. The ethnicity of everyone involved is not mentioned, for instance, and the focus has been on the South Sudanese, which seems in some form or another to be a simplistic analysis -- 'It's the South Sudanese again, and they have a particular background, and that's the subject of inquiry.' But that confuses the ethnicity of everyone else. What about the ethnicity of the non-African or the non-Islander people involved in the melee. What does it mean for their involvement in this form of social crime? It often confuses the issue. What the factors are is that they're predominantly young males, so gender. It hasn't been discussed at all. All these sort of social issues get put to the side, and race and ethnicity become overblown, and that's the danger of this sort of stuff."
Mr Kelly cites a recent example in Melbourne he says highlights the discrepancies in how certain groups are reported by the media.
"(It's) because we live in an extraordinarily racist society. It's really as simple as that. So journalists, opinion makers, politicians all jump to the simplistic correlation between race and crime. In 2010, 4 to 5,000 predominantly young men caused 14 or 15,000 dollars worth of damage. They overturned cars, they set fire to buildings, they smashed windows, they threw chairs around in an inner suburb of Melbourne, in Oakleigh. Their race and ethnicity wasn't mentioned one iota. And that was the Bob Jane T-mart riot. Similar scenario, angry young men attacking innocent bystanders, throwing chairs, causing horrific damage. Police responded with helicopters and riot squads. And no one inquired about the background of these young men."