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South Sudanese-Australians report racial abuse intensified after 'African gangs' claims

Sunday November 4, 2018
Luke Henriques-Gomes

Protesters, including Titan Debirioun, demonstrate against racialised reporting of ‘African gangs’ claims. A report has found young South Sudanese-Australians felt police profiling increased because of the media coverage. Photograph: AAP

Study suggests ‘media’s racialised crime reporting’ had role in increase in verbal and physical abuse

Young South Sudanese-Australians faced increased racial abuse and felt police profiling “intensified” because of “disproportionate” media coverage after a Melbourne riot two years ago, a study has found.

The report, by the Centre for Multicultural Youth and Monash and Melbourne university researchers, examined the impact of “increased racialised crime reporting” following the riot at Melbourne’s 2016 Moomba festival, which police blamed on the Apex crime gang.

From focus groups with 28 young South Sudanese Australians between the ages of 15 and 23, the study found participants “felt racial profiling by Victoria police had intensified” and they reported an increase in the racial abuse they experienced on the street and at schools.

That coincided with a huge increase in “racialised” reporting. Researchers said the words “Sudanese” and “gang” appeared in 130 news stories in Melbourne’s two daily papers in the two years after the March 2016 riot, compared with only four stories in the two years prior.

“Almost all participants described an incident of verbal abuse in an open space, and some had also been victims of physical abuse,” the report said. “Similarly, they also reported increased surveillance, such as having to leave school bags at the door or counter of shops, or people on public transport filming them ‘just in case’ they did something wrong.”

The report was released this week during a Victorian election campaign that is expected to focus heavily on law and order issues, with the federal home affairs minister, Peter Dutton, repeating his claims of an “African gangs” crisis in Victoria.

Late last month, 10 cross-sector organisations urged both major parties to “put an end to dirty politics and targeted fear campaigns”.

The study’s participants were asked questions such as how they believed the media tended to portray young people of African background and what impact stories about the Apex gang had on their lives.

They recalled being told to “go back to where you came from”, facing jokes about being in gangs in the schoolyard, while one young woman said she had had people “spit on me”, according to the researchers.

“Participants viewed such abuse as a direct consequence of the aforementioned stereotypes and permissive climate created by the media’s racialised crime reporting,” the report said.

Among their recommendations, researchers called on Victoria police to assess its training procedures in a bid to better reduce racial profiling.

Since 2013, the force has introduced policies against racial profiling and its senior leadership has been careful to steer away from racist rhetoric.

It established a African community taskforce earlier in the year aimed at tackling youth crime and fostering closer links with Victoria’s South Sudanese.

“Victoria police is committed to ensuring that our members do not racially profile in any form,” a spokeswoman said. “Our members are trained to police in response to a person’s behaviour, not the colour of their skin.

“Over the next three years, we will be delivering a number of projects to further improve accountability and transparency. This includes the state-wide rollout of a community contact card and further work to enhance organisational accountability and transparency.”


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