Melbourne’s African community has been “hammered” by weeks of political furore over youth crime and claims of “gang” violence are not helping, the Victorian multicultural commissioner says.
“Over the last few weeks, it’s just really been hard the way the media has hammered the African community,” Dr Mimmie Watts told a community meeting in Melbourne on Saturday.
Watts, herself a migrant from Cameroon, made the comments a day after community leaders met police to discuss a newly announced African-Australian taskforce aimed at tackling youth crime.
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 publicly linked to crimes such as riots, home invasions and armed robberies since early December.
Watts said 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.
Abeselom Nega, the chief executive of youth support organisation iEmpower, said: “I think, over the last few weeks, we have seen the effect of … social disadvantage, disengaged young people creating havoc and creating significant problems.”
On Sunday afternoon South Sudanese leaders will join officers on patrol at Tarneit shopping centre to help address recent criminal activity, Wyndham inspector Peter Bitton said.
“The joint-patrol is just one of the ways that police are working with the community hand-in-hand to address the criminal behaviour that we’ve seen recently,” Bitton said.
The 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…