Melbourne mayors speak out against ‘racist African gangs headlines’

Hundreds of people protested outside Channel 7's Melbourne office for a segment on "African gangs running riot".

Hundreds of people protested outside Channel 7's Melbourne office for a segment on "African gangs running riot". Photo: AAP

Melbourne mayors have come out in solidarity with their South Sudanese residents after months of the inflamed African gangs debate.

Darebin, Hume, Whittlesea, Moreland, Yarra, Knox, Monash and Melton mayors described the commentary as racist and inflammatory and will speak out in support of the community on Monday.

“Members of the South Sudanese community have told me that they feel vilified and unwelcome,” Moreland Mayor John Kavanagh said.

“We stand together to say that we value the contribution of our Sudanese residents, deeply appreciate the diversity of culture and experience they bring to our cities, and to reinforce our desire to work with them to address the same challenges that all communities across Victoria are faced with.”

The eight councils are part of Welcoming Cities, an initiative to help councils plan for and harness the benefits of migration.

In a statement before a campaign launch on Monday, the mayors said the inflamed debate was not substantiated by crime statistics.

The stats

People born in Sudan make up 0.1 per cent of the Victorian population and 1 per cent of offenders, according to the state’s Crime Statistics Agency.

There were 846 offenders born in Sudan in the year to September 2017.

The number of offences dropped 7.4 per cent to 502,858 in the year to March 2018.

Property and deception offences dropped 12.3 per cent, or about three in five of all criminal incidents in the state.

The number of burglaries was the lowest in seven years, the CSA said.

Last week, up to 50 teenagers met up in Melbourne’s northwest to fight over a “relationship issue”.

The two groups threw stones at one another in Taylors Hill, smashing the back window of a police car.

The commentary

It came after far-right extremist and criminal Blair Cottrell appeared as a guest on the now-suspended Sky News program The Adam Giles Show.

Transport Minister Jacinta Allan declared on Twitter she had directed Metro Trains to stop broadcasting Sky News bulletins from Melbourne station screens days later.

The Herald Sun then published a cartoon of Ms Allan using a television remote – “decisive action to keep the Victorian public safe” – while black youths run amok behind her.

Sky News said the interview with Cottrell was not aired on the screens and the opposition’s Tim Smith called out “Kim Jong Allan” for “trying to run state-sanctioned media”.

“I’m sure the residents of Taylors Hill will be breathing a sigh of relief that the Andrews government are tough on Sky News but soft on crime.”

African youth crime has become an election issue as both sides compete for law and order credentials.

Hundreds of people marched at the ‘Enough is Enough’ rally in Melbourne last month after Channel 7 broadcast a segment about “African gangs running riot” on its Sunday Night program.

What they say

Australian-Sudanese community leader and litigation lawyer Maker Mayek will speak about the “media panic” alongside the eight mayors on Monday.

“There is no such thing as a gang crisis here in Melbourne. Today we are here to show our politicians that communities are standing together united against the media frenzy of sensationalist reporting that is hurting African-Australian people and their communities,” Mr Mayek said.

We all call Australia home, and it is important that all members of our communities come together to make everyone feel welcome.”

Rebecca Wickes, a criminologist and director of Monash Migration and Inclusion Centre, said it would be more useful to reduce the drivers of crime.

Many Victorians are feeling unsafe for no other reason than they’re being told to feel unsafe.”

Whittlesea Mayor Kris Pavlidis said new migrants and refugees made enormous contributions.

“The role of political leadership is to unite diverse communities, ensure vulnerable people are given the tools they need to thrive, and to dismantle unhelpful stereotypes and prejudice – not to amplify them.”

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