Growing public concern over escalating criminal activities carried out by groups of largely African-born youth in the Australian city of Melbourne has again been raised after a community center was nearly destroyed.
Residents of a community in the city’s west have been fearful as young men, reported by media to be South Sudanese born and others, hijacked the privately owned facility and used it day and night.
The now trashed center was only recently opened in what is a new housing estate.
The vandalizing of the center has been blamed on gangs, including the Menace to Society (MTS) and Apex, reported 9 News.
Images of the center published by the media show the center has been trashed inside and out with litter everywhere, holes in walls, and graffiti covering both the exterior and interior.
For estate residents, their community center has become a no-go zone.
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) December 29, 2017
Resident Manish Kinger told the Herald Sun that he and his family don’t feel safe at all.
“I want to take my children to the park but it’s too dangerous. Gangs show up here all hours of the day and night,” said Kinger who only moved into the estate three weeks ago.
“The area is meant for everyone, but they take it over. I have even seen a drug deal once or twice.’’
Another resident who wished to remain anonymous told the Herald Sun that her sister phoned police several times.
“They yell, bang, and destroy property,” the woman said. “You don’t know what they’re capable of doing and that’s the scariest part about it.”
Emily Yuille, the manager of a South Sudanese community group in the same suburb as the center, told The Age that a lot is being done here on a grass-roots level to try and stop what has been going on.
“Some of these kids have gone too far now and they’re a disgrace to themselves and their community,” Yuille said.
The trashing of the center has been one of a string of criminal activities attributed to gangs of African youth by the media but often reluctantly called out by the authorities due to the sensitivity regarding issues of ethnicity.
— 7 News Melbourne (@7NewsMelbourne) December 20, 2017
Last week large numbers of riot police had to deal with rock-throwing South Sudanese partygoers at a rented Airbnb house in the southwest Melbourne suburb of Werribee.
The partygoers caused $150,000 damage to the rental and also damaged local residents’ cars. Locals said the aftermath looked like a war zone. Police have so far made one arrest regarding that incident, which has been linked to MTS and Apex by the media.
Speaking just after the day after the Werribee incident, Wyndham’s Chief of Police Inspector Marty Allison told reporters that the cultural background of those involved in the violence was not relevant.
“This is not about ethnicity, it’s not about people’s background, it’s not about religion, it’s about their behavior, so any conversation that goes on around ethnicity needs to be squashed,” Allison said reported The Age.
Police are still hunting a teenager after a gang of African youths attacked an Officer in Melbourne. pic.twitter.com/jEKrrCmHvf
— Sunrise (@sunriseon7) December 26, 2017
At least four other short-term rental homes have been trashed in the past several months, linked to the same gangs. One trashed million-dollar beachfront had MTS and Apex graffiti on walls and furniture, reported the media.
One police official has called on the media to stop referring to the African youths behind the criminal activities as gangs. Despite graffiti saying MTS or Apex at crime scenes Deputy Police Commissioner Andrew Crisp said there is no evidence or intelligence to suggest they are dealing with a gang, reported AAP.
Referring to offenders as “MTS or Apex” is only feeding their ego, Crisp said.
“There are some young people of African background, some other people also from a Pacific Island background, that are engaging in this anti-social behavior,” Crisp said.
“Rest assured, we will continue to work with community, work with others, to address the underlying social causes of this type of behavior,” he said.
— Nine News Melbourne (@9NewsMelb) December 29, 2017
But public concern has been heightened by widespread reports of anti-social behavior, robberies, and assaults—including the bashing of a police officer on Boxing Day—attributed to groups of youth of African appearance.
Despite what other police officials have recently said, the acting Chief Commissioner Shane Patton and Police Minister Lisa Neville both publicly acknowledged public concern this week.
“The leaders in the African community readily and openly say they do have issues with a small cohort of African youths who are committing high-end crimes. We acknowledge that,” Patton said, reported The Australian.
“We don’t shy away from that at all. We will pursue anyone involved in any criminal activity and if that is African youths then so be it,” he said.
A huge gang of violent African teenagers bash & rob their way through St. Kilda yet police fail to make any arrests. pic.twitter.com/fDAAsMLoz8
— #aupol news (@AupolNews) December 17, 2017
Neville said African-born young men were overrepresented in crime statistics and were causing “great harm and fear in the community.”
“I am not trying to cover this up,” Neville said. “It has been of significant concern to us and to Victoria Police,” she said.
“We’ve had additional investment in the gang squad (and) in intelligence measures in order to try and disrupt their behavior,” she said.
South Sudanese youth leaders have called for the government to do more to assist African teens to integrate into society, reported The Australian.
2017 Year in Review