Community is Paying for Inaction

Paul Sheehan, Sydney Morning Herald, May 29, 2006

It was a 16th birthday party, a big one. About 100 teenagers were at a house in Clump Place, Green Valley, on Saturday night last week. Several adults kept an eye on proceedings.

At 9 o’clock came the beginning of the nightmare dreaded by anyone who holds a big party—several carloads of uninvited young men arrived and wanted in. Most of the guests assembled at the front of the house to watch the verbal confrontation unfold. The unwanted visitors, described by numerous witnesses as appearing to be Lebanese, withdrew but certain things were said and threats made.

With a depressing predictability, the Lebanese got on their mobile phones and began to gather numbers. More cars assembled. Police later estimated the size of the war party at about 60 men and 15 cars assembled in Clump Place.

At 11pm one of the Lebanese walked to the front door of the house and yelled inside: “Anybody who has got balls, get outside.”

Once again, with depressing predictability. Once again, a large number of the party-goers went outside to see what was going on. A brawl soon erupted. The fighting spilled into nearby Stella Drive and Rodeo Drive. About 100 young people were involved.

Three were later admitted to hospital. Knives and broken bottles were used. Two 16-year-old guests were treated for stab wounds at Liverpool Hospital. With depressing predictability, the injured had been stabbed in the back after being swarmed.

Few of these details were released by the police, certainly not the disturbing scale and premeditation of the brawl. Yet it was the largest such attack since the Cronulla revenge raids by hundreds of young Lebanese men on December 11, 12 and 13.

Almost six months after those December revenge attacks, not a single significant arrest and conviction has been logged in response to the self-styled “intifada” by groups of young Muslims who assembled in Punchbowl and Lakemba—inside the electorate of the Premier, Morris Iemma—to launch attacks on eastern beach suburbs.

Even now, the Iemma Government remains in denial about the extent of what happened on those nights, as entire convoys were able to assemble, attack and escape while screaming racist threats. One woman, Wendy R, said she and her husband were driving along Canterbury Road on the night of Monday, December 12, when they encountered carloads of men with Lebanese flags hanging out the windows and heard one man screaming, “Do it for Allah!”

This left a deep impression, though not as disturbing as the inability of the police to notice what was happening, let alone deal with it. On Friday, police released an identikit photo of three “men of Middle Eastern appearance” wanted for the attack on Dan, a 26-year-old mechanic, stabbed five times and seriously wounded after four men leapt from a car outside Woolooware Golf Club on the night of December 11.

As usual, women were involved. The men had shouted insults from the car at two women leaving the club with Dan. As usual, the stab wounds were in the back. As usual, it was four on one.

The undertow of hate crimes and menace is continuing, with the proverbial “men of Middle Eastern appearance” (MOMEA) constantly appearing on the crime log of the NSW Police: _May 21: a MOMEA charged with the murder of Bassam Chami and Ibrahim Assad, two Lebanese men who were known to police. _May 21: a group of MOMEA involved in stabbings in Green Valley. _May 26: an off-duty police officer insulted and assaulted by two MOMEA in The Rocks. _May 26: two MOMEA arrested in Riverwood for possession of heroin and a handgun.

And that’s just the past week, and only crimes logged on the police website.

In Cronulla itself, the impact is continuing. On Saturday, I met several former detectives at Cronulla. Two of them dined with me at Yasou, a Greek restaurant overlooking South Cronulla Beach. It is a good restaurant (the spanakopita, spinach and fetta pies, were superb) but also a sparsely attended one. When I asked the owner, Ray Bradbury (his wife is Greek Cypriot), how business had been, he said: “Normally, I have 30 staff during the summer season. After December 11, I had to go down to five or six because the place was empty . . .

“Since December 11, most of the customers are coming from within five kilometres. The business from outside visitors is gone. There is a perception of danger here . . . The police lock-down [after the revenge attacks] was the wrong thing to do. It created the impression they had lost control, and they barred everyone from coming into the area.”

The former police at the table nodded in agreement. They described a culture of denial by police over innumerable incidents of sexual intimidation of young women by young Muslim men congregating at Cronulla, and also at Brighton-le-Sands. All the former police I spoke to on Saturday, and others I have interviewed, believe the civil disorder that eventually exploded was symptomatic of a larger, deeper problem: the politicisation of the NSW Police, accompanied by the systematic dismantling of elite and specialist units and a loss of esprit de corps.

It has been a long winter in Cronulla. It began on December 11.

The large numbers of Lebanese Muslim families who used to gather at Gunnamatta Park, and the young Lebanese men who gathered at the car park at North Cronulla, stopped coming on December 11. They have not returned.

On Saturday, I encountered five uniformed police at Cronulla station in mid-afternoon. On the promenade, two women police officers patrolled in a beach buggy. The stable door has been double-locked at Cronulla, but the horse bolted long ago.

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