By Sonia Hickey and Ugur Nedim
In a media ‘exclusive’ this week, 7 News profiled a nationalist organisation called United Patriots Front (UPF) and its plans for blatant vigilantism on the streets of Victoria.
Channel 7 painted a glowing portrait of the group as ‘patriots’ who act as a ‘kind of neighbourhood watch’ to protect residents. In other words, heroes, and not the radical, racially discriminatory group they are.
The leader, Blair Cottrell, came across as well-presented and articulate. There was no hint of the man who has claimed to have manipulated women “using violence and terror”.
UPF and the True Blue Crew emerged around 2015 as anti-Islam groups. Last September, three United Patriots Front members were found guilty of inciting hatred against Muslims.
Three members of the group, including Blair Cottrell, who staged a mock beheading in protest at plans to build a mosque, were found guilty and convicted in Victoria.
After government pressure, Facebook and Twitter shut down several of the group’s that were being used to rally and organise followers. None of this was reported by 7 News.
Political hot potato
When violent incidents involving African youths hit media headlines earlier this year, the issue of ‘African Gangs’ provided Australian governments with a convenient diversion from a range of important issues – and with the ‘undesirable other’ to blame the nation’s problems on, and to unite the public against. This is much like the so-called Greek ‘gangs’ on the 70s, Vietnamese ‘gangs’ of the 80s and early 90s, and Lebanese or ‘middle eastern gangs’ of the early 2000s.
The issue has been particularly high on the Victorian political agenda, with a great deal of misinformation circulated about the issue, much of which is owing to the mainstream media chasing headlines.
The politicians are certainly not helping – Immigration Minister Peter Dutton’s comments that Victorians are ‘too afraid to go out at night’, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘serious concern’ about African gangs, and Federal Health minister Greg Hunt’s proclamation that ‘the gangs are out of control’ have all added fuel to the fire – and helped shift the spotlight away from their conduct.
While police numbers are currently being bolstered and specially trained officers have been added to the ‘gang squad’, Victoria Police acknowledges that a more sensible approach than the traditional ‘arrest and prosecute’ is required.
For the past few years, the media and politicians have been hell bent on blaming immigrants for the youth crime wave in Victoria, despite the facts: Figures from the Victoria Crime Statistics Agency suggest that offences committed by ethnic groups such as the Sudanese are dwarfed by crimes committed by those born in Australia.
But what’s more compelling, is that Australian born youth committed more than ten times as many home invasions and aggravated robberies in Victoria as Sudanese youth, and more than twenty times the number of car thefts.
While there is an election scheduled in Victoria later this year, and an issue such as this is bound to be the subject of political debate, what’s more alarming is the fact that the mainstream media continues to ignore real data or bother to scrape below the surface for information when it comes to telling ‘news’ stories.
A representative police force
In the meantime, Victorian Police are working closely with African Community Leaders to create a joint response, and say they need more African-Australians to wear the uniform.
Victorian Multicultural Commissioner Dr Mimmie Watts has taken pains to point out that a one-size-fits-all solution is not going to work anyway, with the African community made up of more than 50 countries, each with cultural differences that need to be considered when deciding on plans to promote harmony and address lingering issues.
The over-riding problem in the eyes of many is that youth – regardless of race – are increasingly becoming disengaged due to low levels of education, high unemployment, poverty and marginalisation.
In acting out, they are raging against a society they feel they don’t belong in, and towards which they harbour resentment. As long as the underlying issues remain, so will the problem of youth crime.