By David Elliott
A series of fights broke out on March 12 at Birrarung Marr and Federation Square in Melbourne, on the day of the Moomba festival. Police say a few of the youths were from the ‘Apex’ gang, but their initial account was inconsistent. State ALP Premier Daniel Andrews held a press conference the following Monday to whip up hysteria over the fights and call for harsher policing, and he has been joined by the commercial media.
The media focused on the race of the people involved, blaming immigrant communities for the violence, and young Sudanese men specifically. The Age called for the use of deportations. Various media outlets and right-wing radio shock jocks claim that Victoria Police softened their approach to African people after being sued for racial profiling in 2013, alleging the fights were not brought under control because of ‘political correctness’.
These claims have been dismissed by lawyers, youth workers and African community leaders. Police have had no reduction in their powers, and aren’t required to stand back if a fight is breaking out.
Race wasn’t invoked in 2010 when a mostly-white crowd smashed shop windows and overturned a car over the cancellation of the EasterNats race meet at Calder Park. No nationality is intrinsically more prone to violence than any other.
Tamar Hopkins, of Flemington & Kensington Community Legal Centre, wrote in New Matilda in 2012: “numerous crime statistics involving Africans are police generated… it is the interaction between the police and youth itself that generates charges of resist police, assault police, offensive language and fail to give name and address”.
Many police reports of incidents with African-Australians have been disputed by witnesses – but the police account, even when it is inconsistent, is often uncritically accepted by the media.
Black youths in Melbourne know they will be targeted by police. It is normal for young black men to be stopped and questioned for no reason, sometimes several times a day. There are many cases of police bashing African youths in Melbourne. These are often settled out of court in payouts of up to $200,000.
In one case the victim required stitches and dental surgery after he had an encounter with police. In another, three friends say they were assaulted and falsely imprisoned by police, one of them losing part of the sight in his eye after being hit with a police torch. Claims of racial abuse, death threats, and torture with pepper spray are common.
Working people want police to deal with street violence – and with theft, domestic violence, sexual assault and other crimes affecting our lives. But these issues are left by the wayside when police instead choose to terrorise immigrant communities and create media hysteria over gangs to call for more resources.
This same police force put extraordinary resources into fighting the No East-West Tunnel campaign – taking the side of big business and government against the community. This highlighted what the police are really used for. The $1.5 million put into that failed operation speaks volumes. Because they play that role, police often attract backwards elements who also buy into racism.
Capitalists need racism so they can shift the blame for poverty onto communities that suffer it. Both major parties make cuts to services, public housing, hospitals, education and jobs. We face high unemployment and welfare is at poverty-level, all so that capitalists can take billions out of society as profit. These are the systemic causes of petty crime. The anti-protest laws being introduced around the country show that police are meant to protect this system and not ordinary people.
We must oppose ‘tougher’ policing – at the end of the day it is only being called for to strengthen the hand of the rich and powerful. Even the nice-sounding doctrine of ‘community policing’ is, in practise, just another way to intimidate people.
Socialists demand democratic oversight of the police by working people. Racists should be expelled from the force outright. But only a fight for jobs, homes and services for everyone will cut across crime and racism in the first place. We have to end the profit-driven system that creates both, and fight for a society with no need for any armed force.