• Channel 9's 'A Current Affair' reports on youth violence in Melbourne (YouTube / A Current Affair)Source: YouTube / A Current Affair
Author and motivational speaker Joe Williams says that violence is unacceptable and so is vilification.
Joe Williams

9 Jan 2018 - 3:03 PM  UPDATED 9 Jan 2018 - 3:09 PM

Why do people form certain opinions of others?

For the past week or so we have seen and heard just how bad, frightening and vicious ‘African gangs’ are in Melbourne. These thugs, who have been carjacking, intimidating and following people home and going on violent rampages throughout the city are traumatising the community and threatening the ‘Australian way of life’.   

What is more, story after story, one headline after the next, influencing the public to be aware of such groups; with one newpaper front page blantantly stating the state was in fear

Worried, I called my friend who lives in the outer suburbs of Melbourne to see if she was ok, if she was in fear of these “terrorising” and "out-of-control" African refugee youth thugs. She was fine, and wondered what all the fuss was about.

I was confused. 

Here I was, in NSW, being fed information that part of the popular Victorian city was under attack. Evidently it was misinformation. 

Here I was, in NSW, being fed information that part of the popular Victorian city was under attack. Evidently it was misinformation. 

This is the problem we have with media in many cases - they paint a picture of what they want you to believe. They report in a way that keeps the reader hooked, the papers selling and the subscriptions coming. Despite the Victorian Police actually asking media to stop referring Melbourne's youth violence as "gangs" as it misrepresents the issue, headlines boldy state there is gang violence in our suburbs. And in most cases - this being a prime example - when it comes to people of colour, a negative and often fearful rhetoric is broadcast.  

We have witnessed this throughout history with media feeding their audiences plain information about an often complex situation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, personally, I am all about living in harmony and treating everyone with love, respect, compassion and care and clearly it's been quite the opposite when reading the alleged gang and thug like behaviours. While certain actions and behaviours of groups have been somewhat sensationalised by news outlets and politicians, African-Australian youth are overrepresented in Victoria's violent offending and public disorders

And being all for positive behaviour, I agree with words from respected senior Yolngu elder Witiyana Marika who has responded to the events saying, 'This is Aboriginal Land, be respectful to who is here, the people before you and the land itself in which you stand - or leave'. However, I am also of that opinion to the non-Indigenous community who are here also; we can not sit back make judgement on people from a particular background just because they are different.

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We have seen a history of this behaviour throughout this country, standing up, fighting back, forced assimilation - let’s not jump down the throats of the latest targets.

Instead of passing judgement, condemning a particular group of people, or an entire race, I like to ask why?

Why are these young people acting out like this? By large, it is the emotional hurt, anger and pain that causes these type of behaviours. So I ask, why is there so much hurt, anger and pain?

A few years ago, I worked at a local catholic high school when I was living in Wagga Wagga. I grew fond of a bunch of young African refugee students. These happy, quiet, shy kids were always sitting alone and never mixing and mingling with the larger school population, ever.

One day I sat down and asked why; why did they always sit alone? Why were they always gathered in their own groups? Their response was confronting, but being an Aboriginal man myself, it was not surprising. I know what it is like to be “different” from the larger non-Indigenous crowd.

‘No one has ever asked us to sit with them, no one has ever asked us, can they hang out with us - we want to, but we feel unwelcome.’

It was confronting. Hearing such cheerless words from the mouths of 15 and 16-year-olds who are living in a country that is supposedly living in land of ‘equal opportunity’.

It was confronting. Hearing such cheerless words from the mouths of 15 and 16-year-olds who are living in a country that is supposedly living in land of ‘equal opportunity’.

Often, African refugees are fleeing war torn and extremely tough experiences that cause all sorts of trauma, seeing death and bloodshed is enough to imprint a pain in anyone’s mind. Is it not somewhat an obligation to help our brothers and sisters heal their wounds and help to fit in to our communities?

It is easy to sit back, judge and condemn others' behaviours, but as we know, everyone behaves the way they do for a reason; a lot of the time, trauma is responsible for those negative behaviours. 

Let's help to heal those traumas.

I am not excusing violent behaviours, but I am merely encouraging our community to ask the why; we don’t know why these people are acting the way they do, we don’t know why any one acts the way they do without asking the question. Let’s treat people with compassion; after all, this forced assimilation and judgement of race, religion and ethnicity, is an outgrown form of the White Australia Policy and we know how that went down in history.

Let’s help people build on their strengths and work on weaknesses rather than force them to assimilate into a way of life that may be completely different. I see this as an Indigenous issue. As the first people of this country, we have been trying to adopt new behaviours ourselves and we still hurt from 230 years of assimilated abuse.

In closing I’ll ask you this; how many people reading this article, have asked an African refugee, an Aboriginal person, someone from another race, religion or background - how their day is going? How their family is? If they enjoy living here in Australia? Start projecting kindness. Ask people how they are and make them feel welcome.

Show love, compassion and understanding - it heals.

Joe Williams is a Wiradjuri man, is a former NRL player, professional boxer, author, motivational speaker and influencer. Follow him @joewilliams_tew 

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