African communities confront police over crime statistics

By Thokgor Reech

Recent crime statistics released by Victoria police has caused tension between the force and the African-Australian community.

Last week African youth organised a forum to dispute police figures, which indicate that crime among Sudanese and Somali youth in Victoria is alarmingly high.

In August police released a report indicating that 0.92% of all offences in Victoria were committed by the Sudanese, while 0.35% of offenders were said to be Somali. The data went on to say that among the Sudanese community that 7.1% were lawbreakers while 6.1% of the Somali population fell into this category.

 The African Youth Forum challenged Victoria Police claiming the crime statistics were discriminatory.  Community members urged Victoria police to stop releasing incomplete crime statistics and figures that were targeted at particular ethnicities.

“No matter what gender, age or colour we are, we are all Australians”, said one community representative. The African Youth Forum felt it was essential to put an end to stereotypes that painted African youth as violent. Community members argued stereotypes only created a bad image for the entire African community in the eyes of other Australians.

 The forum also discussed the importance of and need for both African communities and Victoria police to work hand in hand to support disengaged youth. In one statement a community representative said, Victoria Police did not make any allowances for the fact that African “kids are kids”, and often behaved like other kids in the wider community.

Victoria Police spokesman Sergeant D. Jeffrey told the African Youth Forum, police produced the figures in response to “a request from the media”. However he did not answer how police had arrived at these figures.  

But Sergeant Jeffrey did admit that the data could be skewed, as it was possible that people arrested and charged might falsely identify themselves as being Sudanese or Somali.

He also added that the crime statistics were likely to be influenced by community attitudes. Sergeant Jeffrey said, given that the Sudanese and Somali communities were newcomers in Australia, it was possible that the wider community blamed them for crimes without always being sure that their accusations were correct. He added that this had happened to other nationalities settling in Australia in the past.

The community forum also expressed concern about remarks made by Deputy Commissioner Tim Cartwright who had suggested that Melbourne’s so called African crime problem was causing similar tensions in Victoria to those that led to the Cronulla riots in Sydney back in 2005.

Forum representatives flatly rejected Mr Cartwright’s statement, collectively agreeing that there was no link between African crimes committed in Victoria and the Cronulla riots, because there was no element of racial tension involved.

Forum attendees were united in their view that the issues and problems facing their youth presented a huge challenge for the entire African-Australian community. They felt this was partly exacerbated by the fact that police had more power over their kids, which made it difficult for families to control their kids.

It was stated that teenage African-Australians particularly found themselves caught between their parents and the police and found them selves at higher risk of turning to crime.

The forum was bold in dismissing the police crime report as “simply showing a lack of understanding about Sudanese and Somali communities and what makes them tick”. Community leaders agreed the major obstacle facing them was the great divide in the ‘life experience and cultural differences between members of the police force and young Africans’.

As a means of moving forward, many participants in the forum spoke about the need to increase education and employment among the African youth to help reduce crime.

The forum also discussed the need for the Australian Government to provide sport and recreational centres that could be financially subsidised as a way of reducing crime among young Africans by offering activities that attracted them.

 The wish list also included a plea to the State Government to help create job opportunities and provide additional English language educational courses as it was collectively agreed that the 510 hours of English lessons provided by the Federal Government was not meeting the needs of most new African migrants.

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