African leaders gather in Melbourne to address youth crime


Melbourne‘s African community say they’ve been ‘hammered’ by weeks of political furore over youth crime, and that claims of ‘gang’ violence aren’t helping.

Victorian multicultural commissioner Dr Mimmie Watts told a community meeting in Melbourne on Saturday that the media’s treatment of the African community has been ‘hard’ over the last few weeks.   

Dr Watts – herself a migrant from Cameroon – made the comments a day after community leaders met police to discuss a newly announced African-Australian task force aimed at tackling youth crime.

African leaders said they've been 'hammered' by weeks of political furore over youth crime at a community meeting held in Melbourne on Saturday. Pictured: Shadow minister for multicultural affairs Inga Peulich (centre) at the meeting

African leaders said they've been 'hammered' by weeks of political furore over youth crime at a community meeting held in Melbourne on Saturday. Pictured: Shadow minister for multicultural affairs Inga Peulich (centre) at the meeting

African leaders said they’ve been ‘hammered’ by weeks of political furore over youth crime at a community meeting held in Melbourne on Saturday. Pictured: Shadow minister for multicultural affairs Inga Peulich (centre) at the meeting

The forum's organiser Clyde Sharady (pictured) admitted there had been some 'bad behaviour' from community members, however claimed politicians were using the crimes for political gain

The forum's organiser Clyde Sharady (pictured) admitted there had been some 'bad behaviour' from community members, however claimed politicians were using the crimes for political gain

The forum’s organiser Clyde Sharady (pictured) admitted there had been some ‘bad behaviour’ from community members, however claimed politicians were using the crimes for political gain

The issue is not a new one in Victoria, but debate has intensified over the past two weeks with a series of high-profile incidents and pointed commentary from the federal government.

People of African appearance have been linked to a spate of crimes, including riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December.

Dr Watts acknowledged there were ‘pockets of disengaged rascals’ but objected to the term ‘gang’.

‘A gang is organised crime … we have a group of disengaged youths who are out there doing some of the wrong things,’ she said.

The forum’s organiser Clyde Sharady admitted there had been some ‘bad behaviour’ from community members.

However he claimed politicians were using the crimes for political gain, The Daily Telegraph reported.   

Victorian multicultural commissioner Dr Mimmie Watts told the meeting that the media's treatment of the African community has been 'hard' over the last few weeks. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

Victorian multicultural commissioner Dr Mimmie Watts told the meeting that the media's treatment of the African community has been 'hard' over the last few weeks. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

Victorian multicultural commissioner Dr Mimmie Watts told the meeting that the media’s treatment of the African community has been ‘hard’ over the last few weeks. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

People of African appearance have been linked to a spate of crimes, including riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

People of African appearance have been linked to a spate of crimes, including riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

People of African appearance have been linked to a spate of crimes, including riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

Chief executive of youth support organisation iEmpower Abeselom Nega, said the community needed to take responsibility for the issue.

‘I think, over the last few weeks, we have seen the effect of … social disadvantage, disengaged young people creating havoc and creating significant problems,’ he said.

Victoria Police deputy commissioner Andrew Crisp on Friday attempted to ease tensions and said Victoria was not facing a crime crisis.

‘There is not a crisis in this state in relation to crime or the behaviour we’re seeing of a relatively small number of people of African background,’ he said.

‘We’ve seen, sure, a spike in antisocial behaviour over summer, over the last few weeks, but this is not a crisis.’ 

Last week, home affairs minister Peter Dutton claimed people in Melbourne were afraid to go out for dinner at night because of African street gang violence. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

Last week, home affairs minister Peter Dutton claimed people in Melbourne were afraid to go out for dinner at night because of African street gang violence. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

Last week, home affairs minister Peter Dutton claimed people in Melbourne were afraid to go out for dinner at night because of African street gang violence. Pictured: African youths clash with police in Tarneit

The state government has hit back at claims by the opposition and federal coalition that Victoria’s judiciary is soft on crime.

‘They said there was no consequence for a young person who breaches a condition of their bail,’ Victoria’s attorney-general Martin Pakula said on Friday.

‘We saw just last week that that was completely untrue – there was a young person who was bailed, he breached his bail by having a mobile phone with him against bail conditions and he was remanded.’

Last week, home affairs minister Peter Dutton claimed people in Melbourne were afraid to go out for dinner at night because of African street gang violence.

On Friday, he blamed ‘civil libertarian’ judges for youth crime, while the state’s shadow attorney-general John Pesutto labelled the justice system a ‘basket case’.

Victoria had 8726 young offenders in 2015-15, NSW 20,051, and Queensland 12,931, figures from the Australian Bureau of Statistics show. 

Victoria Police community engagement Inspector Stephen Mutton also revealed they are working to try and recruit more African Australians to the force.

‘We need to have more African Australians wearing the uniform, we have to have that,’ he said.

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