Melbourne African community comes together after vigilante Facebook posts
When Morley Muse saw a Facebook post about youth offenders of African heritage that urged the local community to “hunt these so-called human beings”, she thought instantly of her own child.
“When I saw that I thought my son is two and a half years old, I made a choice to come to Australia,” the research engineer said.
“I don’t know whether these people know that there are black people in this [Facebook] group or not … I spend hours, upon hours, in the lab, my research is going to benefit Australia, not Nigeria where I come from.
“Like the new Prime Minister said … whether you became Australian 10 minutes ago, or 10 days ago, or 10,000 years ago, whatever.
“You are Australian, you made a choice to be here and we all want to contribute to our society.”
The comments were quickly deleted by the page administrator, but were made as Melbourne grapples with its response to a number of serious crimes allegedly committed by a small group of repeat youth offenders of Sudanese or South Sudanese heritage.
The calls for vigilante justice and deportations prompted Ms Muse’s husband, Bode Muse, to organise a community meeting, where he invited the would-be vigilantes to meet their own community face-to-face.
He feels extensive media coverage of crimes committed by youth from African migrant backgrounds has planted unnecessary fear in people’s minds.
“When a group of African teens gather together, I don’t blame them for feeling scared because that’s what they’ve seen [in the media],” he said.
“But the thing is, are you willing to just be scared or are you willing to educate yourself, are you willing to meet these people and understand who they are?
“Why don’t you talk to these people to find out that they are humans just like you. These are parents who are wishing the best for their kids, contributing to taxes, paying their taxes, contributing to the society.
“You know, we want to let people see that the African Australian community, we are very much as human as you are.
“Let’s not divide or segregate any community to feel that the problem is just about them.”
‘Let my heroes shine’
On Saturday morning, around 30 people sat together in Point Cook in Melbourne’s west and began to find common ground on a complex issue.
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Amongst them was 24-year-old writer Tier Ataing, who was born in South Sudan but moved to Australia when he was nine.
He took the opportunity of a roving microphone to speak to the group.
“Being somebody who is a part of the youth, and this youth that is represented on the news, there are a lot of things that I feel that is wrong,” he said.
“Whenever I go on the street, there’s a lot of white people looking at me a certain way, because the media said ‘this is who I am’, but that’s not who I am.
“I am somebody who is trying to succeed and become the best version of myself.
“We have heroes in our community but [the media] isn’t showing me … who should I look up to if you’re just showing me negativity?
“Right now, a lot of kids are feeling down on themselves because you’re telling them they’re monsters and when you continuously tell a kid they’re monsters, eventually they’re going to believe they’re monsters.
“To the media, let my heroes shine, so I can feel good about myself.”
‘Crime has no colour’
Tier said he knows young people who fall into a pattern of crime after things deteriorate at home.
“Crime has no colour at all, I’ve seen crime, I’ve hung out with kids that are from every single culture from everywhere around the world,” he said.
“When you have no love and appreciation at home for anything you do … you’re going to go somewhere to try and find it and most of the time you’re going to try to find it in the street.
“Because the street is going to tell you ‘I love you and I appreciate you’ regardless of what you do, doesn’t matter if you’re doing bad things or good things, your friends in the street will tell you ‘good job’, and that’s the sad thing.”
He also urged his South Sudanese community to focus on strengthening the relationship between elders who have grown up in South Sudan, and their children who have only known life in Australia.
‘They are all Australians’
Also at the meeting was Dr Mimmie Claudine Ngum Chi Watts, a public health researcher and one of Victoria’s multicultural commissioners.
She said many of the youth offenders being talked about were born in Australia.
“Most of the children that we are talking about, they’ve never been to South Sudan,” she said.
“People have talked about deportation, and you know what I said?
“‘Do you want to deport them to the Royal Melbourne Hospital where they were born, or to their mother’s wombs?’
“And we should stop talking about ‘South Sudanese, this person’, because they are all Australians.
“Their citizenship is no less important than any of us in this room’s citizenship.
“We must have that inclusive approach, and I am not hearing that in the discourse because we are ‘othering’ them, we must stop othering a community because of the way they look.”
Police slam ‘keyboard cowboys’
Inspector Marty Allison from Wyndham Local Area Commander said the meeting showed the best of the local community, unlike the actions of online vigilante activists.
“These particular issues that they raise today are quite complex, and they actually require a whole-of-community solution,” he said.
“Definitely social media has an element that sit behind keyboards, and I’ve heard the term ‘keyboard cowboys’, and take great delight in hiding behind some anonymity in some of the comments that they’ve made.
“Not only are they not helpful, but they’re really hurtful. I have no time for those type of people, if they’ve got a solution, let it be a lot more constructive and something that can actually bring their communities together.”
Victoria Police have set up Taskforce Wayward to focus on home invasions, carjackings and armed robberies in Melbourne’s western suburbs.
Inspector Allison said the latest statistics showed a reduction in both overall crime and youth offending, while the taskforce has identified a group of around 60 male offenders who have allegedly been committing the bulk of offences.
“Mainly of African descent, but there’s also a mixture of other ethnicities, including white, Anglo Australians in there as well,” he said.
Mr Muse said he hoped the meeting marked the start of an ongoing dialogue to help bring communities together.
“In the future we’re looking to expand into other suburbs where people could have conversations on hot topics that the community is divided on, to find common agreement.”
Source: ABC NEWS AUSTRALIA