Australia

South Sudanese community find their voice by reclaiming #AfricanGang

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The South Sudanese-born lawyer that helped kick-start the social media campaign that turned around the 'African Gang' hashtag is heartened by the overwhelming response.

Maker Mayek has used irony and humour to help build a powerful social media campaign to help the African community gain a voice.

Mr Mayek has watched the negative attention directed towards his community in recent weeks as the media and politicians have spoken out against the issue of African youth crime in Melbourne.

On Monday, Mr Mayek reclaimed the hashtag 'African Gang', which has been used to stereotype African youth.

The hashtag has since trended nationwide.

"We have seen over the years that our community has been put in the spotlight and the way politicians have used these youth-related issues for political point scoring. All the backlash and comments have gone unchallenged for a very long time," Mr Mayek told SBS News.

"We felt at this point in time the south-Sudanese youths need to stand up for themselves and find a voice.

"We have an overwhelming presence on social media, we've got young people who are well enlightened who understand these issues and who can take our own voice to the Australian public and reach out to the Australian people and say we don't accept being profiled."

"We don't accept the small issues that can be dealt with in a more amicable and calm manner, [not] to be overblown in the media. We want to reach out to the Australian people, even to the people who feel they've been affected by the activities of these youths and tell them we are a better community."

Lawyers, teachers, students and farmers from the African community have embraced the hashtag and posted photos of themselves working or having fun in order to dispell the negative connotation on social media.

Mr Mayek acknowledges the issue of troubled youths within communities, especially in Melbourne, but wanted to reassure the nation it was not a reflection on the hard working South Sudanese people - or minorities - who contribute to the country's proud multi-cultural heritage.

"No one is denying that these problems exist," Mr Mayek told SBS News.

"But this is a community in transition and it is a community in transition in time to come. We need the support of our government.

"We don't need to be chastised, the youths are already disenfranchised enough. Putting out insensitive comments in the media and putting these youths in harm's way, by the politicians, is not going to help."

He was particularly critical of Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton who made comments last week that people in Melbourne were scared to go out and eat at restaurants because of the rise in African youth crime.

Maker Mayek started a social media campaign using 'African Gangs' hashtag.
Maker Mayek started a social media campaign using 'African Gangs' hashtag.
Desilva-Hebron Barristers and Solicitors

"Obviously the community was aware there were problems with youths causing some difficulties around the suburbs in Melbourne, but really what prompted this campaign was the negativity out there in the media, following comments by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and propped up by the Prime Minister," Mr Mayek told SBS News.

"Our campaign was an outcry, following the insensitive comments by the Home Affairs Minister, supported by the Prime Minister."

Mr Mayek said since Monday he has been overwhelmed with the response from the nation, but wasn't surprised by the Australian peoples' ability to rally behind the African community.

On Thursday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews spoke at a press conference and said Malcolm Turnbull had not raised the issue of youth problems in Melbourne despite the prime minister's public criticism of his handling of the issue.

Mr Andrew's acknowledged some of the "nasty incidents" in recent weeks involving youths, but rubbished Mr Dutton's claims that Melburnians were scared to out and eat at night.

"Obviously the community was aware there were problems with youths causing some difficulties around the suburbs in Melbourne, but really what prompted this campaign was the negativity out there in the media, following comments by the Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and propped up by the Prime Minister," Mr Mayek told SBS News.

"We have all seen the reaction from the public as well as the law enforcement, particularly the Victorian Police, which we acknowledge as a community has been fantastic.

"Our campaign was an outcry, following the insensitive comments by the Home Affairs Minister, supported by the Prime Minister."

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