Richard Ferguson, The Australian, December 28, 2017
Victoria Police has denied the state has a problem with African youth gangs, despite a string of recent violent incidents including one of its officers being kicked in the face outside a suburban shopping centre on Boxing Day.
The unnamed sergeant was attacked without warning near the entrance of Maribyrnong’s Highpoint Shopping Centre by a man wearing a gang-style bandana, while he was arresting a 16-year-old youth accused of shoplifting.
Victoria Police’s Superintendent Therese Fitzgerald said “youth crime in general”, rather than gangs associated with an ethnic group, was to blame.
“We have problems with youth crime across the state and it’s not a particular group of youths we are looking into. It’s all youths. It’s youth crime,” she said.
The superintendent’s comments come a week after an Airbnb property in Werribee was trashed at a party attended by more than 100 mainly South Sudanese youths who turned on police, pelting them with rocks.
The house was spray-painted with youth gang symbols, including a reference to the disbanded Apex crime game responsible for a spree of home invasions and car thefts in the southeast suburbs.
Earlier this month St Kilda Beach was the scene of violent clashes between different groups and attacks on passers-by.
Superintendent Fitzgerald confirmed the officer at Highpoint and his partner were surrounded by a group of young men of African appearance before they were attacked. Police do not know the identity of the assailant.
CCTV footage released yesterday showed one youth tried to stop the assailant from kicking the officer in the head. The 16-year-old arrested for shoplifting was released pending inquiries.
The arresting officer sustained bruising above his eye, but is back at work. His attacker was last seen wearing a white T-shirt and a black bandana.
Superintendent Fitzgerald was pressed repeatedly on whether Melbourne faced a particular threat from African crime gangs.
“I think we might look at issues across the state this week where there were public order incidents … they were not African youths at all,” she said.
The state’s former chief commissioner Kel Glare labelled the comments “nonsensical”.
“It’s ridiculous for anyone to stand up to say there is not a problem with African youth violence … they are a disproportionate problem,” he said.
Mr Glare, chief commissioner from 1987 to 1992, said calling out perpetrators for what they were would not offend African communities as “they must be as shocked as we are”.
“The first thing police need to do to solve this problem is to start telling the truth … we need to teach the African kids more about law and order and get them into sports; away from crime,” he said.
Mr Glare last week told The Australian a water cannon might be necessary to deal with larger brawls like the ones seen at St Kilda beach on December 15 and last week in Werribee.
Victorian Youth Affairs Minister Jenny Mikakos said the disrespect being shown to police was “unacceptable”.
“The events we saw at Highpoint Shopping Centre and the St Kilda Foreshore (where young people trashed the beach on Christmas Day) were disgraceful acts,’’ she said.
“We have confidence Victoria Police will round up those — responsible and make the appropriate arrests.’’