“They are playing political games and it is not right”, the South Sudanese Community Association’s Richard Deng told a protest of 400 people in Melbourne in early February.
The “Stop criminalising African communities” rally was called in response to the scare campaign around “African Gangs” whipped up by Liberal Party politicians and the Murdoch press through the summer.
The conservative media expressed shock as Deng promised to mobilise to help defeat the government, saying, “Peter Dutton and Malcolm Turnbull, you need to be deported… if you do not stop what are you doing, we are going to send you back to where you come from… We have to defend ourselves.”
Deng Maleek from the Flemington-Kensington Legal Centre told the rally that the government’s racism had led to a wave of attacks on Sudanese people, and that young black men are being stopped and harassed by Victoria police, “asking them whether they are gang members, and treating them like criminals.”
The crowd marched to the Liberal Party headquarters, and then to Victorian Parliament House, chanting “racists are not welcome here,” and “Dutton’s gang is a racist gang, throw the Liberals out.”
In January, the Herald Sun newspaper whipped up a scare campaign alleging an “African Gang Crisis”.
Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton were quick to jump on the bandwagon, with the PM telling the press that Victoria has a problem with, “gang violence and lawlessness.” Peter Dutton even went as far as claiming that Melbourne residents “are scared to go out to restaurants” in case they are “followed home by these gangs.”
But it was all a lie. Official statistics released in February show that crime in Victoria is at its lowest for ten years. Youth offences are down over 40 per cent since 2008-09. Even the slight over-representation of young men of Sudanese background is likely the result of racist over-policing of working class migrant communities.
Speakers at the rally included lawyers, leaders of community associations, a representative from the Victorian Trades Hall Council and two National Union of Workers (NUW) delegates.
The speakers not only rejected Dutton’s comments, but called for an end to the racialising of crime in Victoria, and for the government to better fund public education, housing and employment programs for young people, instead of spending $2 billion on expanding policing in Victoria last year.
The Liberals want to use racism and hysteria about crime to score political points before the Victorian state election in November. While Peter Dutton was attacking the Victorian Labor Government for being “soft” on crime, Victorian Liberal Leader Matthew Guy was posturing over tougher mandatory sentencing and increased policing.
Labor Premier Daniel Andrews should have rejected the racist attacks on African communities, but instead took the Liberals’ bait, insisting that his government would “throw the book” at young offenders, and reinforcing his call for more anti-terrorism measures.
Many at the rally voiced concern that the failure of mainstream politicians to challenge racism is empowering the racist right. Nyadol Nyuon, one of the rally organisers, told the crowd that, “the climate of racism, of attacks—the last time I remember this kind of climate was in 2005, near the time of the Cronulla riots.”
“To younger African-Australians”, she said, “You have a right to feel safe, you have a right to be represented, and you have a right not to be vilified.”
Speakers at the rally also attacked the use of the word “African” to lump together various populations. Gabriel Ayuen from the NUW told the rally, “It’s racist, inaccurate and it’s untrue. Africa is not a suburb—it makes no sense to talk about African gangs.”
The rally shows the kind of unified fight we will need to push back the scaremongering and expose the Liberals’ agenda of cuts to services.
Matt Kunkel from the Victorian Trades Hall Council told the crowd, “the trade union movement will always stand with Melbourne’s migrant communities against these racist attacks. The government attacking you are attacking working people everywhere: they’ve slashed penalty rates, cut education funding and reintroduced the ABCC.
“We need to stand together, black and white, to take the fight to the government.”
By Jasper Bell