Magazine of the Socialist Party, Australian section of the CWI

Melbourne: ‘Gang’ hysteria fuels racism against African youth

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The Australian government ended 2017 with a slander campaign against African-Australians, claiming that ‘African gangs’ are running riot in Melbourne. This has fed directly into racist abuse directed at black youth.

In March 2016, the ‘Apex gang’ made headlines after being blamed for a brawl at the Moomba festival. Despite being a loose group of kids from all backgrounds, Apex was sold in the media as an ‘African gang’. Police now say that Apex is defunct, and graffiti signed ‘Apex’ has become a running joke, with young people making fun of the gang hysteria.

Now there are claims that a western suburbs group, ‘Menace To Society’ (MTS), has taken their place. Last year a couple of Airbnb properties were trashed by party-goers. Around the same time a brawl broke out on St Kilda beach and a community centre in Tarneit was vandalised. Many media write-ups put the blame on the race of the people involved. As a result, African-Australians are finding themselves attacked for the actions of anyone who looks like them.

Malcolm Turnbull claims that “African gang violence” is epidemic in Melbourne. There will be a Victorian state election this year, and the federal Liberal government is trying to paint the state Labor government as soft on crime. Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton is calling for offenders to be deported. This has no law enforcement value, as offenders are usually Australian citizens – his goal is to invoke racism.

This has backfired a little. Dutton was widely mocked after claiming that Melbournians were “scared to go out at restaurants”, as most Melbournians found this idea ridiculous. State Liberal leader Matthew Guy even had to distance himself from Dutton’s comments.

MTS is not a ‘gang’ in the same organised sense as the Comancheros, or the mafia figures who the Liberal Party courts for campaign donations. They are a loose group who use ‘MTS’ as a graffiti tag. But a poll commissioned by The Age found that people in places like Tarneit and Cranbourne fear ‘African gangs’ regardless.

The truth is the state Labor government has already beaten the Liberals to the punch. The same Age poll found that people overwhelmingly thought Labor would be tougher on crime than the Liberals. In 2016, Labor fed media hysteria about the ‘Apex gang’, and they have already pushed through extra police powers and resources.

Strengthening the police hurts the interests of working class people. Police resources are primarily used to defend the profit interests of business. That is why the police drop everything to break up pickets of striking workers or community protests. This is one reason socialists demand that the police be taken under democratic community control.

It is normal to fear violence, but the idea that antisocial behaviour comes from a person’s race is both wrong and dangerous. This idea is criminal. It is a source of violence. African-Australians are already abused and hassled by people on the street. There are reports this has increased in the first week of 2018.

It is also a fact that some charges against African-Australian youth are artificially created by police, when youth respond defiantly to bullying from police. Even the parts of the media that have been sceptical of the gang hysteria still let Victoria Police off the hook for their role. Many young people view them with suspicion because they have a history of violently assaulting black youths, threatening them and using racial slurs.

Antisocial behaviour is created by the failures of capitalism, and it exists in communities of all backgrounds. It is not imported from overseas, and it does not come from anybody’s genes – it is a part of a capitalist Australia. It is created directly from the lack of social infrastructure, the lack of housing, inadequate welfare, low wages and insecure work. These problems are a part of the profit-driven system. Racism is a lie that hides this fact.

By boosting racist ideas, the government is hoping to distract people from the enormous problems it faces. Racism also divides working people and makes us less able to fight back against the system that breeds crime. We have to fight racism in all its forms, and unite working class people of all backgrounds for a better future.

We will only be able to address the root causes of crime with a socialist approach, where working people share fully in the wealth they create, jobs are shared out and homes, services and the necessities of life are provided to all.

By David Elliott

Attend the rally: No Racism, Stop Criminalising African Communities, Sunday 4th February, 1pm outside the State Library in the Melbourne CBD.

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