Carr, cops and media bash ethnic community
SYDNEY — The "drive-by shooting" of Lakemba police station in the city's south-west has led to a racist backlash against sections of Sydney's ethnic population. Tension has been rising since the stabbing murder of teenager Edward Lee in Punchbowl on October 17 and the two-week police crackdown in the area that followed.
The crackdown culminated in a blitz by the NSW Police's Bankstown Area Command on October 29 which turned the area into an occupied zone. Groups of young Arab-Australians on the streets were singled out, stopped and searched simply for being young and of Arab descent.
Police boasted to the November 4 Canterbury-Bankstown Torch that their 24-hour blitz resulted in the arrest of 24 people on 71 charges. It also resulted in 46 cautions, 199 "separate marches" and 247 "move-alongs", which is police-speak for harassment.
NSW Labor Premier Bob Carr, Police Commissioner Peter Ryan and the establishment press all blamed "Lebanese gangs" for the shots that were fired through the police station's windows, without presenting a shred of evidence.
While Carr admitted it could not be proven that a Lebanese gang was responsible, he said: "Investigations have revealed that a Lebanese gang involved in drugs and car theft has been identified in relation to recent disturbances".
"Watch out. We are behind you and we will get you", Ryan warned. Ryan threatened that the unknown offenders "had not seen anything yet" and that police were going to "retaliate". Judging by the Bankstown blitz, Ryan's warnings do not bode well for the rights of young people.
NSW Liberal opposition leader Peter Collins called on the government to remove the right to bail for those accused of violent crimes, the speedier issue to police of bulletproof vests, capsicum spray and extendible batons, and harsher penalties.
Carr told a press conference on November 1, "If police can identify other powers they need to protect order and public safety, they will get it".
The state government has already introduced legislation that outlaws knife possession for under-16-year-olds and other laws that have led to a dramatic increase in police harassment of young people.
A number of Arab and Muslim community leaders condemned the attack on Lakemba police station as "un-Australian", while warning that it was a "dangerous time" to suggest Lebanese gangs were behind the attack before any arrests had been made.
The Lebanese Muslim Association on November 6 threatened legal action against Carr under the state's racial vilification legislation.
The establishment media and the radio talkback hosts have all chimed in, spouting anti-Arab and anti-young people views.
"Police hit gang wall of silence", was how the Sydney Morning Herald reported the lack of leads police had found in their investigation of the murder of Edward Lee.
Packer's Bulletin screamed: "Gangland: Sydney's tribal war zone".
Murdoch's Daily Telegraph daily barrage included a beat-up that featured a front-page photo of a group of young people it described as a "violent gang".
The Press Council has already received complaints about the Telegraph story and is investigating.
Following Carr's comments and the press hysteria, verbal abuse directed against the Arab and Muslim community in the Canterbury-Bankstown area has skyrocketed. Arabs have also received a number of death threats since the death of Edward Lee.
Despite the media's racist scapegoating, recent studies have reported the real causes of the problems faced in working-class areas.
Rob White, associate professor of criminology at the University of Melbourne, points to "a general deterioration in the life conditions of young people — poverty, suicide, unemployment. Thirty per cent youth unemployment is an imposing figure. Combine it with the systematic cuts in public institutions, and you are talking about a whole class of abandoned youth.
"If we do not provide adequate community resources, there will be a social impact, including criminal behaviour", White said.
Arab and Vietnamese youth in the Bankstown area suffer over twice the level of average youth unemployment. Studies by the NSW Bureau of Statistics and Research show that there is no relation between ethnicity and crime. The findings make nonsense of the sort of claims that are being made by the right-wing radio talk show hosts.
According to Don Weatherburn, children from English-speaking families are just as likely to get involved in crime as children from non-English-speaking backgrounds. For offences such as public property damage, young people from English-speaking backgrounds are more highly represented than their non-English-speaking counterparts.
The establishment press misreports crime. If an Anglo-Australian commits an offence, the individual is reported as being responsible; when a migrant or as member of an ethnic group is involved in the same offence, the person's ethnicity or country of origin is reported as though the whole migrant or ethnic community were responsible.
While some communities are over-represented in arrest and crime statistics, the commercial media rarely report that these communities are characterised by poverty, unemployment, poor access to formal education and poor proficiency in English due to the lack of language classes.
[Interview with the executive director of the
Australian Arabic Communities Council: next page.]