We may think that we now live in more enlightened times where the scourge of racism is finally being dealt to and racist behaviour by politicians is no longer considered acceptable.
But recent events suggest to me that racist memes are still being used by the calculating to stir up political support from the bewildered.
Admittedly it is not as bad as previous embodiments of racist activity. People are not regularly being killed or their houses or churches burned, at least by the politicians saying these things. But there are an awful lot of people out there that seem to get fired up by this sort of stimulation …
A classic example of race baiting has occurred recently in Australia. Victoria, which currently has a State Labor government, has an election later on in the year. Clearly the Liberals would love to win back power. So the Turnbull Government has made a big thing about gangs of young Africans causing problems in Melbourne and how Melbournians are afraid to go out at night. Peter Dutton, whose level of odiousness almost matches that of Trump, has front footed the attack. And things have been egged on by Rupert Murdoch owned papers.
Dutton chose to use the right wing playbook. He attacked the Andrews Government for appointing “weak” judges and suggested that the non existing law and order problem was all because of liberals (small l).
As an example a couple of days ago he said this:
There is a problem with some of the judges and magistrates [Premier] Daniel Andrews has appointed and some of the bail decisions that have been made, been criticised even by Daniel Andrews’ own ministers,” Mr Dutton told Adelaide radio yesterday.
“It is not a problem in Adelaide, not in Brisbane, not in Sydney. It’s a problem concentrated in Victoria.”
The Guardian has provided this background:
Victoria is having a debate about gangs. Specifically, it is debating whether it is appropriate to call groups of young people who are predominantly from African backgrounds a “gang” and, so named, what should be done about it.
It’s also having a debate about race, which is being waged in the comment sections of front-page articles on gang violence, and on social media, where comments like “stop immigration until this mess is sorted” populate Victoria police’s official Facebook page.
Both debates are linked to a perceived increase in large-scale violent offences committed by young people of African appearance, most of whom have been linked to Melbourne’s Sudanese migrant community.
Media coverage of the issue, led by the News Corp tabloid the Herald Sun, has dubbed Victoria “a state of fear” and reported that it could undermine the incumbent Labor government’s chances in the November state election.
On Monday the prime minister weighed in, saying at a press conference in Sydney that “growing gang violence and lawlessness in Victoria” was “a failure of the Andrews government”.
However, police say that crime from African “street gangs” is an ongoing, not growing, problem, and also that calling these groups “gangs” might be overstating the issue.
The Murdoch media have been complicit in what has happened and embarrassingly for them were caught out trying to create an incident involving Sudanese youth so they could report it. From the Guardian:
A scuffle described by the media last week as “the latest gang flare-up” involving African teenagers was in fact entirely provoked by the journalists who reported it, according to Victoria police.
The article, published by the Daily Mail on 3 January, was billed as an exclusive and headlined “Police SPAT ON and abused as officers arrest African teenagers outside a shopping centre in Melbourne’s west in broad daylight – in latest gang flare up”.
According to Victoria police, there was no “gang” involved and no “flare-up” until the aggressive behaviour of the Daily Mail photographer provoked a group of teenagers who were innocently socialising at the shopping centre.
Two days after the article was published, the Victoria police executive director of media and corporate communications, Merita Tabain, wrote a confidential email to the editors of Melbourne’s main media outlets expressing concern that aggressive behaviour by journalists might “exacerbate the current tensions”. She gave the incident at the Tarneit Central shopping centre as an example.
Tabain wrote that the incident had been provoked by the photographer’s decision to “move in to take closeup photos of a group of African teenagers socialising”.
Is there an actual problem? Sudanese offending is believed to comprise 1.5% of total offending. Although this is bigger than the actual proportion of the Sudanese community of the total population the overall amount is small.
Is there evidence of a recent spike of offending?
The Guardian article mentions three incidents, a brawl at the St Kilda McDonald’s on 13 December; the trashing of an Airbnb property after a wild party in Werribee on 18 December; and the assault of a police officer who was kicked and surrounded by a group of young people when questioning a suspected shoplifter. In a big city, Melbourne has over 4.5 million people, these sorts of incidents are hardly unheard of especially parties where property is trashed.
And socio economic reasons may be the cause for any spike in offending. A disproportionate number of Sudanese youth are unemployed, the Sudanese community has a much younger average age, are generally poorer and suffer from an enhanced lack of engagement in work and school. These factors may explain the enhanced level of Sudanese involvement in reported crime. But the claim of out of control Sudanese youth gangs is, in the words of Victoria Chief of Police Graeme Ashton complete and utter garbage.
So the overwhelming effect I get from the allegations is “Meh”. But this has not stopped the idiots from sparking up.
— Susan Metcalfe (@susanamet) January 12, 2018
#CaucasianCrime: Disgusting attack on South Sudanese-Australian man after this POS followed his wife & kids home. He blames Turnbull and Dutton for their #AfricanGangs rhetoric https://t.co/OW5nys0Ttd pic.twitter.com/nTjQzkap8t
— Dave Earley (@earleyedition) January 12, 2018
Can I recommend that you go to the #AfricanGangs hashtag on twitter. The tweets are almost overwhelmingly a celebration of Africans living in Australia who are achieving great things, just like the early settlers of other cultures moving to a foreign nation.
And I can’t help but wonder if the activity is timed to coincide with the first anniversary of the Bourke Street incident where six people were killed after Dimitrious Gargasoulas allegedly intentionally drove into them. Gargasoulas was Australian born of Greek Tongan descent who had been granted bail a few days earlier after an allegation of speeding and failing to stop. From the Wikipedia description he was clearly unwell. But mix in race and a cry for law and order and a claim that the judiciary are soft and time it so it will be topical just before the anniversary of a really sad event. Does Peter Dutton have no depth that he will sink to?
But just when you thought that no politician could sink lower than Dutton Donald Trump describes most of the developing countries as Shithole. Put aside his misogynist views, his lack of understanding, his overt belligerence, his anti environmental crusade, his attack on the poor and support for the rich and the threat he poses to world peace these comments should result in his removal from office. In a properly functioning democracy …
But this is a weakness of the democratic system. Pedalling lies and threatening racial tolerance for political gain should result in automatic failure, every time. That it does not, and that it is seen to be a legitimate political tool by the right means that we have a problem.